TWO FIRST half goals condemned Derby County to only their second league defeat at the calendar year as Fulham ended a run of eight games without a win.
Nikolay Bodurov flicked the Whites in front just after the half hour mark, before Cauley Woodrow inflicted a big blow to Derby’s chances of recovering with a decisive second goal on the cusp of half time.
Derby huffed and puffed in the second 45 minutes without seriously troubling Marcus Bettinelli in the Fulham goal, whose clean sheet ended the Rams’ record of scoring in 16 consecutive fixtures in all competitions.
Just as they did in the Capital One Cup clash back in October, Fulham controlled large periods of the first 45 minutes – limiting Derby to very little chances and time on the ball.
Aside from Darren Bent’s left footed cross shot wide of goal and Omar Mascarell’s long range curling effort in the first 15 minutes, Fulham carved out the better openings.
The first came from Ross McCormack who flashed an effort wide of Lee Grant’s near post from outside the area.
Ryan Tunnicliffe headed over after Lasse Vigen Christensen’s cut back deflected up and into the 12 yard area – a move that was started by a thundering challenge from Scott Parker that sparked Craven Cottage into life.
The Rams held firm and should have made more of a Mascarell corner on 17 minutes that was headed wide by Bent, unchallenged, at the near post.
Kit Symons’ side took control of the contest for the remainder of the half. Their intense pressing game forced Derby further and further back and the home side carved out four good opportunities before the half time whistle.
The first came from Woodrow who headed Parker’s header into the arms of Grant, before Tunnicliffe flashed an effort wide after being picked out by McCormack inside the area.
Their pressure told shortly after the half hour mark. Bryan Ruiz did the majority of the work as he deceived Cyrus Christie on the right and made his way into the area.
The Costa Rican international switched the ball on to his right foot and drove a shot into a crowd of bodies and as the ball sat up, Nikolay Bodurov hooked the ball over Grant and into the far corner of the goal.
The Rams failed to respond as Fulham chased and harried them at a relentless pace with Marcus Bettinelli, the Fulham goalkeeper, unchallenged before the break.
The home side were rewarded further for their hard work on the cusp of half time.
Parker started the move by robbing Hughes in the middle of the park, before slipping the ball into the feet of McCormack left of goal.
The Scottish forward took a touch before clipping a ball to the back post for the onrushing Woodrow to head into the back of the net.
Steve McClaren made a double change at the interval to try and swing the pendulum Derby’s way.
The Rams started brightly as Ryan Shotton headed over Mascarell’s corner a minute into the second 45 minutes, but without creating any chances, Fulham maintained a hold over the contest.
On 68 minutes Tom Ince’s deflected drive from outside the area nearly caught Bettinelli out, but the ‘keeper recovered to make the save and Jeff Hendrick headed Mascarell’s free kick into the arms of Bettinelli three minutes later.
With time ticking down, the Rams began to turn the screw. Ince’s fierce drive was deflected narrowly over the top of the net, but with the visitors pressing forward, Fulham nearly got the backline out.
From halfway inside the Derby half, the ball was pumped forward to McCormack. The forward, with just Grant to beat, stepped to the right and fired the effort straight at the ‘keeper.
It nearly got better for the home side on the brink of added time as Dembélé, the substitute, rattled the crossbar and the full time whistle sounded soon after to condemn McClaren’s men to only their second league defeat of the calendar year.
Fulham: Bettinelli, Stafylidis, Hutchinson, Bodurov, Parker (Hoogland, 77) Ruiz, Woodrow (Dembélé, 86), Tunnicliffe, Christensen (Kavanagh, 43), Richards, McCormack
Substitutes not used: Király, Kačaniklić, Fofana, Burn
Derby County: Grant, Christie (Buxton, 45), Keogh, Shotton, Forsyth; Mascarell, Hendrick, Hughes; Ince, Lingard (Russell, 45), Bent (Bryson, 64)
Substitutes not used: Roos, Dawkins, Ward, Albentosa