Fulham were given a brutal and unforgiving welcome to the realities of the Premiership at Craven Cottage yesterday where the experience, judged from their supporters' reaction, was not wholly to their liking.
"Boring, boring Derby," sang the home fans at the final whistle, giving understandable vent to their frustrations after seeing Jim Smith's Derby County team stick to their game plan and take a point. More importantly, perhaps, they also stopped Fulham taking three points and in doing so pricked a small hole in their bubble of early season confidence.
"They'll find it hard everywhere now," Smith said afterwards. "They won't be able to steamroll teams like they did in Division One now they are in the Premiership. It will be interesting to see how they cope when they have been hit a bit harder and their confidence is not so high."
On a day of sultry, sticky heat, Smith's squad were without their regular goalkeeper Mart Poom, due to bruised ribs which he had sustained at Ipswich in midweek, and they also missed Italian striker Fabrizio Ravanelli, who was suffering from a back strain. This left them depleted but determined to avoid any further embarrassment.
Playing defensively and with one eye on the counter-attack, Derby also picked up two more injuries to the striker Malcolm Christie, who withdrew with a hamstring strain before the interval, and the defender Chris Riggott, who suffered with a similar problem.
Fulham were left to toil without reward, leaving behind the sharp and impressive performances against Manchester United and Sunderland in the previous six days. In the high temperatures, and the humidity, it was little wonder they flagged in the second period as the visitors funnelled back and packed their final third.
"It was one of those games where one goal would have been enough but we couldn't get it," the Fulham midfielder John Collins said. "We have no excuses. We didn't play well enough to win the game and they defended well and in numbers."
Louis Saha, the scorer of three this season, twice shot wide before the interval and Collins, from a free kick, glided a weighted shot just over from 20-yards just before the interval as Fulham, intricate and pleasing to the eye, took the initiative.
The home fans were treated to the French import, Sylvain Legwinski, a £3.3m signing from Bordeaux, entering the fray in the second half as one of two 66th minute substitutes, to make his first appearance for his new club.
Frustration however, was the most frequent outcome of all they could create as Derby funnelled back and packed their final third, and the Fulham manager Jean Tigana, arms akimbo and alive as he leapt around in his dugout, cajoled his men forward to make the breakthrough.
Fulham 0 Derby County 0
Attendance: 15,641Reuse content