Two second half goal saw Derby County defeat Fulham and ensure that they finished Boxing Day at the summit of the Sky Bet Championship table.

Two second half goal saw Derby County defeat Fulham and ensure that they finished Boxing Day at the summit of the Sky Bet Championship table.

Following a frustrating first half, an early Emerson Hyndman own goal gave Paul Clement’s side some breathing space before Jacob Butterfield capped off an impressive display by doubling the lead late on.

With Middlesbrough’s game away at Blackburn Rovers being postponed due to a waterlogged pitch, the victory saw Derby climb above Aitor Karanka’s side and to the top of the second tier heading into their trip to Leeds United next Tuesday.

Aside from one early opportunity apiece at a packed iPro Stadium, the opening stages of this Boxing Day meeting was a slow burner.

It was clear that Fulham had come to frustrate their opponents and over the course of the first 45 minutes Stuart Gray had got his tactics spot on as the hosts failed to create any clear openings.

A combination of Bradley Johnson and Jason Shackell saw a header deflected for a corner, whilst Alex Kačaniklić tamely tested Lee Grant after fluid build-up play from the visitors.

After their initial slow start, Clement’s side really cranked the pressure up on Andy Lonergan’s goal.

Johnny Russell volleyed well over after connecting with a half cleared deep cross, whilst Tom Ince miscued a left foot shot on the edge of the area from a cross.

Fulham weathered the storm, however, as the Sky Bet Championship’s leading scorers began to create more of their own opportunities.

Kačaniklić forced Grant into another save as he tipped his long-range drive over the top of his crossbar, before the wideman fired over from the resulting set piece.

The Rams bossed the possession statistics, but were struggling to apply the finishing touch to a largely strong showing.

Ince, twice, was guilty of not hitting the target when well placed as he first bent an effort wide, before chipping over the top of the crossbar after a ricochet sent him clean through on Lonergan’s goal.

At the other end, Moussa Dembélé saw a heavily deflected drive drop wide of goal as the two sides entered the half time interval all square.

Derby needed a goal and on 52 minutes the iPro Stadium entered delirium.

In typical fashion, Russell collected possession and drove into the Fulham penalty area and after ditching a couple of challengers, the Scottish wideman drilled a low ball into the area that cannoned off Tim Ream, then Hyndman, and into his own net.

Gray’s side looked for an immediate response as McCormack, Fulham’s leading scorer, bent an effort narrowly wide of Grant’s far post.

Similarly, the impressive Butterfield flashed an effort wide of Lonergan’s post, whilst Chris Martin, the Captain, was denied by the ‘keeper after being played through on goal from a quick set piece routine.

Following good work from Ince and Martin, Cyrus Christie saw another opening deflected for a corner, whilst at the other end, Ryan Fredericks shot just wide of Grant’s near post.

As time ticked down, Fulham grew stronger as they sought to take advantage of the vulnerable one goal advantage that the Rams held.

Luke Garbutt, the Everton loanee, forced Grant into a save, whilst Matt Smith, the substitute, headed narrowly wide.

The Rams weathered the storm, though, and added a crucial second goal to cement their victory as Butterfield exchanged passes with Martin, before finishing low beyond Lonergan – ensuring that Derby finished this Boxing Day top of the Championship table.

Derby County: Grant, Christie, Keogh, Shackell, Warnock; Thorne (Hendrick, 82), Butterfield, Johnson; Ince, Russell (Weimann, 79), Martin (Bent, 87)

Substitutes not used: Mitchell, Baird, Pearce, Shotton

Fulham: Lonergan, Fredericks, Stearman, Burn, Ream, Kačaniklić (Christensen, 78), O’Hara (Smith, 62), Hyndman (Cairney, 71), Garbutt, McCormack, Dembélé

Substitutes not used: Lewis, Hutchinson, Woodrow, Pringle

Attendance: 32,134 (525 Fulham supporters)

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