Is it a little early to be mentioning the dreaded "R" word in October? Not if Fulham and Derby do not lift their game and their standard pretty quickly. This draw bore did neither of them any good, though it was Derby's first away point of the season. But the Premier League newcomers have to deal with the statistic that they have not scored on their travels for nine hours.
They might have broken that particular duck but for the excellent goalkeeping of Antti Niemi, who luckily regained his place after his early-season aberrations. As Derby piled on the pressure against a Fulham team reduced to 10 men for the whole of the second half after the dismissal of Paul Koncheksy, it was Niemi's hands – and once an outstretched foot – which denied them the win.
Kasey Keller, who had kept goal in the previous three Fulham games, should have started, but he strained an arm in training on Friday. "I said to Antti, you are number one but haven't proved it so far this year," said the Fulham manager, Lawrie Sanchez. "Today he showed us."
Incredibly, the single point earned from Niemi's skills lifted Fulham five places in the table – 18th to 13th – but Sanchez was not being fooled by that. "I don't know whether to be pleased, because we drew the game, but it was one we were expecting to win" he admitted, saying he fully understood the home boos, reflecting Fulham's failure to score for the past three games.
Konchesky was shown a straight red by the referee, Phil Dowd, in first-half added time. The Fulham left-back and Craig Fagan, back for Derby from a four-game ban, had been niggling away at each other a little earlier and when Fagan went in hard on the touchline, he was floored by Konchesky's retaliatory outflung arm, also earning himself a booking for overreacting. Sanchez had no arguments with the dismissal.At least it provided a little excitement to close out a dire first half.
Only two minutes earlier, the Derby manager, Billy Davies, had abandoned his ultra-cautious defensive line-up, taking off the centre-back Claude Davis and pulling back the holding midfielder, Dean Leacock, another defender by inclination. On came Derby's bright hope, Giles Barnes, and set about showing why, as Derby piled on the second-half pressure. One rocket was bravely thrust away by Niemi and a towering header was also brilliantly dealt with, as was the captain Matt Oakley's 20-yard thump when Eddie Lewis cut back the ball to him.
Fulham, with Carlos Bocanegra coming on to take Konchesky's place at left-back and Seol Ki-Hyeon being benched, persisted with two up front and played better than they had done with a full team.
Stephen Bywater deflected one Dempsey header over the bar and, in a bid for a late winner, Sanchez brought on David Healy, the striker who has made those a speciality.
But this was Craven Cottage, not Northern Ireland. Thestalemate did not dim Davies' optimism. "Unfortunate not to take three points," he said."We are on our way." But in which direction?Reuse content