Just as the Championship table seemed to be sorting itself out, with Steve McClaren’s Derby County and his former club Middlesbrough pulling away, both were grounded yesterday as Watford became the big winners by moving closer in third place, and even greater incentives were offered to Norwich and Ipswich in today’s Old Farm derby.
Once before this season Derby had gone top, only to succumb to the pressure by losing at Brentford. Back in west London, they were poor again against a Fulham team that had won only twice in 11 games since Christmas and slipped into relegation trouble but lived up to something like their potential here.
Even with a crop of youngsters in the squad there is sufficient quality among the older hands to suggest they have been underperforming badly. The return of Scott Parker certainly helped; he gave a lesson in modern midfield play to Derby’s young prospect Will Hughes, while Ross McCormack in attack looked more like the player Fulham paid some £11 million for in the summer.
Derby, having been 2-0 down in the Capital One Cup here in October before scoring five times, had no need to panic, but this time there was no reprieve. Fulham scored a crucial second goal just before half-time, then defended solidly and broke with pace, substitute Moussa Dembélé hitting a post near the end.
Kit Symons, the popular former Fulham defender upgraded from caretaker to permanent manager immediately after that cup defeat, had told his team to press and harry the leaders, which they did to perfection, with Parker leading from the front. McClaren, unhappy enough to make two changes at the interval, agreed the home side were deserved winners, adding: “They defended with their lives and we wouldn’t have scored if we’d been playing until Tuesday.” Derby will need to do so then, however, when travelling to Brighton as the Championship goes on its relentless way.
Although missing leading scorer Chris Martin, the Scottish international, Derby were able to field a trio of attacking players who do not belong to them in Tom Ince (Hull City), Darren Bent (Aston Villa) and Jesse Lingard (Manchester United). Bent has scored more goals (seven) in 10 games for them than he did in 30 for Fulham last season, but he put two chances wide yesterday and Ince was denied twice in the second half by deflections.
The visitors were undone in the 15 minutes before the interval. Following the latest in a series of corners Bryan Ruiz came inside, and although his shot was blocked the ball fell perfectly for the Bulgarian international Nikolay Bodurov to poke it right-footed past Lee Grant. Right on the interval, Parker broke at speed after shouldering Hughes off the ball and fed McCormack, who chipped to the far post, where Cauley Woodrow headed in.
Fulham: (4-1-2-1-2) Bettinelli; Richards, Hutchinson, Bodurov, Stafylidis; Parker (Hoogland, 78); Christensen (Kavanagh, 42), Tunnicliffe; Ruiz; Woodrow (Dembélé, 86), McCormack.
Derby: (4-3-3) Grant; Christie (Buxton, h-t), Keogh, Shotton, Forsyth; Hughes, Hendrick, Mascarell; Ince, Bent (Bryson, 63), Lingard (Russell, h-t).
Referee: Mike Jones.
Man of match: Parker (Fulham)
Match rating: 7/10Reuse content