Fulham extend relentless record

First-half double by stylish Fulham proves too much for faltering Derby County

Fulham made 13 their lucky number as they extended their impressive unbeaten run to as many matches thanks to a 2-1 victory over fellow play-off hopefuls Derby County.

In one of just five matches played in the SkyBet Championship due to severe weather and sub-zero temperatures across the country, Slaviska Jokanovic’s side displayed a chilling coolness as they continued their hot streak.

Goals before the interval from Aleksandar Mitrovic and Ryan Sessegnon ultimately did the damage as the Cottagers leapfrogged Derby into fourth position and are now setting their sights on an unlikely assault of the automatic promotion places.

Rams midfielder Tom Huddlestone halved the arrears mid-way through the second period, but Fulham showed enough steel and guile to ensure a tenth victory in what has been a remarkable ascension of the league table.

The Derby goals came in the space of 12 first-half minutes and severely stunted the hosts’ gameplan, after what had been a positive start from the Rams, an area of frustration identified by manager Gary Rowett.

“We made two poor mistakes” – Rowett

He said: “I felt at the start of the game we were very good, very aggressive. We went up against Fulham and made it very difficult for them to play out.

“But we have made two very poor mistakes for the goals, we should never concede to Fulham at a corner.”

Early pressure saw Cameron Jerome fail to convert an inviting Craig Forsyth cross, before Matej Vydra did find the back of the net only for his close-range effort to be ruled out for offside, following an Andre Wisdom delivery.

Ten minutes later the former Liverpool man who had been recalled to replace the suspended Chris Baird was fed in behind by Tom Lawrence. His gangly strides saw him cut inside gracefully before whizzing an effort wide of the far post.

This was a clear ploy from Gary Rowett’s side and seemed close to bearing fruits, but, by this stage, they were already one behind, a deficit that was soon to be doubled.

Mitrovic, who was a late deadline-day arrival on loan from Newcastle, was on hand to strike early, for his third goal in as many matches. The Serbian international, who made the switch in a bid to secure his berth at the World Cup, smartly rolled defender Curtis Davies, but his shot deflected wide.

Not to be denied, the fiery forward hit the opener from the resulting corner. Tom Cairney’s set-piece routine with the ball flighted out of the area appeared to have caught cold his centre midfield partner Stefan Johansen. However the Norwegian international adapted to hook the ball directly into the penalty area, evidently confusing the Derby backline. Despite Craig Forsyth’s best efforts to clear the danger, the ball broke into the path of Mitrovic who bobbled the ball into the bottom corner via a deflection.

Sessegnon “could play in Gareth Southgate’s England world cup squad”

If Fulham’s first relied on an element of fortune their second oozed confidence but was still helped by flat-footed Derby defending. Sessegnon, was lauded post-match by his manager who suggested the youngster would be a good addition to Gareth Southgate’s England World Cup squad.

Jovanovic said: “Ryan Sessegnon could be in the England team for the World Cup, he will definitely play in a big competition somewhere around the world.”

But the 17-year-old is clearly unphased by such talk as he remained composed on the field and finished emphatically with barely 20 minutes on the clock. Johansen again turned creator and after Richard Keogh appeared slow when reacting to his movement, a cute back-heel found Sessegnon who allowed the ball to roll across his body and rifled home low past Scott Carson.

Whilst the visitors could not be begrudged their deserved lead, Derby would have been feeling unfortunate, given their high-tempo start and clear attacking endeavour, to be behind going into the break.

Fulham looked to exhibit an air of control in the second half and whilst Tom Cairney, who shone throughout, was able to do so with his undoubted class, the game remained erratic in the main.

Second-half substitute Kasey Palmer added a drive and hunger to the County midfield, although his desire to influence proceedings saw him push Johansen after a cynical trip from the Fulham man. Escaping with just a yellow card, the challenge upon the Chelsea loanee came from a visiting outfit who felt a storm coming.

Huddlestone reacts well to score from outside the box

Lawrence fired a warning sign when he found the roof of the net with a dipping volley, before just three minutes later the home side pulled themselves back into contention thanks to Huddlestone. The 31-year-old reacted well after a Derby free-kick was only half-cleared and his low shot wormed its way through a crowded penalty area to beat Marcus Bettinelli from the edge of the box.

The goal lifted the mood inside Pride Park and just moments later Derby came ever so close to drawing level. Cameron Jerome stretched to prod the ball round Bettinelli, but with the angle closing he wisely opted to return the ball across the goal. Lawrence met the cut-back on the full, only to see Tim Ream well placed to block his low effort.

However whilst Fulham’s rise from 17th to fifth has showcased some eye-catching football, no run of form with such longitude has ever been without a steely resilience. And as much as Derby pushed for an equaliser the Cottagers continued to dig in.

Although Jovanovic did admit a feeling of fortune surrounded the success.

He said: “We made more chances and we need to be more clinical and we could have killed the game off.

“We didn’t do that and they pulled a goal back, that can happen in the Championship. We were in trouble at the end but fortunately, we won the game.”

But Fulham made their own luck and when Vydra seemed destined to poke home in the area Kevin McDonald conjured up last-ditch heroics. Before in the fifth minute of added time Bettinelli strongly slapped away a driven Keogh shot, ensuring the three points returned down a much-gritted M1.