Derby County returned to winning ways in emphatic fashion as they produced a clinical second-half performance to record a 5-1 victory over newly relegated Fulham.
Jamie Ward scored his third goal in five days after converting Johnny Russell’s cross from the right in a closely fought first-half, before Fulham fought back and Scott Parker levelled matters early in the second-half.
Derby responded within minutes as Craig Bryson tapped in his first goal of the season and Chris Martin rifled in an effort only moments later, and after holding Fulham at arms length, the Rams turned on their attacking qualities in the dying embers of the game, as Martin and substitute Simon Dawkins added further goals.
Bright and full of intent from the start, Derby created their opening chance within two minutes. A neat interchange between Ward and Cyrus Christie led to the latter playing a delightful cross to Russell at the far post, but the Scottish striker’s first time volley flew just over the top of Jesse Joronen’s crossbar.
A quiet 10 minute spell, in which the visitors grew into the game ensued, but nearly culminated in the opening goal. The outstretched leg of Richard Keogh nearly turned Kostas Stafylidis’ low cross into his own net, before Derby responded and broke up the other end with the industrious Christie curling a left-footed effort into the arms of Joronen.
Derby began to crank up the pressure as they moved through the gears and increased the tempo in their passing and movement and on 22 minutes, the Rams’ persistence paid off.
With two goals to his name in the midweek defeat at Charlton, Ward, Derby’s biggest threat all afternoon, made it three goals in five days after he waltzed away from Nikolay Bodurov to convert Russell’s pinpoint cross into the six-yard area.
Led by former England captain Scott Parker, Fulham began to grow into the game – controlling large spells of possession and forcing the Derby backline deeper – but without creating any clear cut opportunities.
Ross McCormack had Fulham’s best chance of the period, as he attempted to catch Lee Grant out with an audacious effort from inside his own half, but Derby’s keeper, scrambling back, was equal to the effort in the last of the first-half chances.
The second 45 started how the first ended with Fulham controlling prolonged periods of possession without creating any clear openings, but Derby threatened to double their lead with two quick chances.
Ward, after a build up of play from a short free-kick, crossed to the far post where Keogh headed over before Russell blazed over a minute later from a similar angle.
The misses proved to be costly as Fulham levelled the game on 53 minutes. A wasteful free-kick by McCormack bounced back to the striker, whose cross could only be cleared as far as Parker, and the captain made no mistake as he calmly swept his effort beyond Grant.
Chris Martin twice had the chance to give McClaren’s side an immediate response – firstly firing over before striking into the arms of Joronen – but the striker’s frustrations soon came to an end, but not before last season’s Player of the Year notched his first goal of the campaign.
An excellent lofted pass out to the left was well cushioned by Russell, whose knockdown was tapped in by Bryson, before Martin, checking inside Cameron Burgess, curled an exquisite shot beyond Joronen to make it 3-1 a minute later.
The Rams’ forward line smelt blood. Martin nearly added a second only minutes later after connecting with Ward’s centre and without creating many more opportunities themselves, Derby had Fulham at an arms length.
With the game in its dying embers, Derby refused to sit back and inflicted more pain on their opponents from London with two more goals in the space of two minutes.
On 85 minutes, Dawkins and Will Hughes, both late substitutions by McClaren, steamed forward before the latter set up Dawkins who initially smashed the foot of the post with an angled effort, but Martin struck the rebound beyond Joronen.
The two substitutes were involved again as Dawkins, set up by Hughes, roamed into the left hand side of the area and struck a left-footed effort beyond Joronen to compound a clinical second-half performance by the Rams.
Derby County: Grant (GK); Christie, Keogh, Buxton, Forsyth, Eustace, Hendrick, Bryson (Hughes 84'), Russell (Dawkins 83'), Ward (Best 88'), Martin.
Substitutes not used: Roos (GK), L. Naylor, Whitbread, Mascarell.
Fulham: Joronen (GK); Hoogland (Vose 66'), Bodurov, Burgess, Kavanagh, Roberts (Eisfeld 79'), Parker, Stafylidis (Kačaniklić 60'), Williams, Woodrow, McCormack.
Substitutes not used: Bettinelli (GK), Hutchinson, Dembélé, Hyndman.