Alex Pearce’s towering header 15 minutes from time saw Derby County fight back to earn a 2-2 draw from an enthralling clash with Fulham in the Capital.
The 28-year-old defender leapt to meet Tom Ince’s delivery and power it into the back of the net at the near post in front of the 3,000+ contingent of Rams fans that made the journey down to SW6.
It saw Steve McClaren’s side battle back from a goal down to earn a result for the first time since the Derby manager’s return in October, after the Cottagers themselves had fought back from Ince’s opener to lead 2-1 at the hour mark thanks to strikes from Floyd Ayité and Stefan Yohansen.
Whilst the Rams’ seven-game winning streak came to an end, Pearce’s header does mean that the club are eight games unbeaten and on the fringes of the play-off positions going into Christmas.
Cagey to begin with, Fulham shadowed the early stages and created a host of half chances.
Pearce, in fine form at the back, was on hand to mop up several dangerous balls into the box, whilst Tom Cairney, the hosts’ captain, took on an audacious effort from outside the box which Scott Carson watched fly over the crossbar.
After around five minutes of possession interchange, Cairney continued to force his mark on the game and was presented with a similar chance with his first, with his volley bringing the same result as it flew over.
On 24 minutes, though, Derby began to steady the ship and Ince began to grow in stature.
After swiping at an effort and sending it wide, he did open the scoring four minutes after the half hour mark as Johnny Russell’s deflected pass fell to his feet. In form and full of confidence on the back of six goals in as many games prior to this meeting, Ince needed no second invitation as he slotted a right foot comfortably past David Button.
Despite the goal, Fulham were by no means out of the game and, for the remainder of the first-half, Slaviša Jokanović’s went about seeking a reaction to draw level once again.
Arguably the Cottagers closest chance came almost immediately after conceding through Ryan Fredericks after the right back broke loose into Derby’s area. His shot, though, proved to be nothing more than routine for Carson, who coolly caught his low drive at his near post.
On the cusp of half time, however, the hosts struck back. Fredericks was involved again as he took the ball on his right foot, drove into the area, and delivered a low centre that was converted by Ayité at the far post – giving Fulham a spur of confidence going into the half-time break.
After play resumed for the final half, Fulham picked up where they left off and Sone Aluko almost doubled his side’s lead after he chanced his arm from range – swerving the ball past the wrong side of Carson’s far post.
It wasn’t until just after the hour mark that there was anything of note to report. Nevertheless, the game’s action returned in the form of a goal and it was the hosts who made their pressure count and were celebrating after Johansen marked a dominant spell for Fulham with a goal, with a low shot into the corner.
Derby looked to reply almost immediately after going behind and Russell very nearly did for the visitors, but he saw his fierce hooked effort turned behind for a corner by Button at his near post.
With time running out, the game opened up once more as both sides searched for the goal which looked sure to determine the match outcome and it was Derby who were able to grasp it after Pearce rose highest to head home Ince’s corner delivery on 75 minutes.
All still to play for, Fulham were presented with a golden opportunity to take the lead on after 85 minutes after they were awarded a free-kick on the edge of the box.
It was Lucas Piazon who stepped up to deliver the set-piece and he very nearly made it three for Fulham, but the crossbar came to the Rams’ rescue as they held on to claim a big point in the Capital and maintain their unbeaten run under McClaren.
In the end, though, it was a game that saw the two teams unable to be separated over the 90 minutes and they were forced to share the honours.
Fulham: Button, Fredericks, Malone, McDonald, Cairney (C), Ayité, Johansen, Sigurdsson (Parker, 45), Piazon, Aluko (Humphrys, 87), Kalas (Madl, 31)
Substitutes not used: Bettinelli, Odoi, Kebano, Smith,
Derby County: Carson, Baird, Keogh (C), Pearce, Olsson; Johnson, Butterfield, Bryson Ince (Weimann, 90), Vydra (Bent, 65), Russell (Camara, 65)
Substitutes not used: Mitchell, Shackell, Hughes, Hanson