Advantage Derby County after narrow 1-0 victory over Fulham

Gabriel Sutton by Gabriel Sutton / 11 May 2018, 22:20

Gary Rowett led Derby County to a 1-0 win at home to Slavisa Jokanovic's Fulham in the first-leg of their Championship play-off semi-final.

Gabriel Sutton runs us through the main talking points below.

Fulham have lit up the Championship over the last two seasons, yet Friday’s 1-0 play-off semi-final first leg defeat at Derby County adds some credence to doubters, who question their handling of high-pressure situations in which there’s something to lose.

The Cottagers side that has scored 164 goals in 92 league games - with many of the same players aligned in the same 4-3-3 system - looked very different to the one we saw for much of that game.

Typically, we see either Tom Cairney picking passes from the edge of the final third or, seeing as he’s undertaken more of a controlling role this term, Stefan Johansen pressing forward.

The problem in the first half at the iPro however, was that Cairney, Johansen and Kevin McDonald were all trying to take on the controlling role, reluctant to break from their position due to the delicate nature of the contest.

That meant Derby’s holding midfielders, Tom Huddlestone and Bradley Johnson - the latter adding much-needed athleticism - could close down quickly without fear of exposing the centre-backs.

Curtis Davies dominated the isolated Aleksandar Mitrovic as Gary Rowett’s system, which looked on paper like a 4-2-3-1 but at times became a 5-2-3, worked a treat.

Andreas Weimann dropped into left wing-back to protect Craig Forsyth and the Austrian’s covering work was key to denying space for right-back Ryan Fredericks, so often Fulham’s danger man.

The Derby duo combined for the opener, when Weimann’s run inside dragged Floyd Ayite away and after Huddlestone’s reverse ball, Fredericks was slow to close down Forsyth, whose back-post cross was met by Cameron Jerome, beating Matt Targett in the air to power home.

It was a deserved goal for Jerome, who had worked hard throughout the first half, but he and others tired after the break. The intensity of Derby’s pressing subsided and thus they offered more space to Fulham’s midfielders:

McDonald’s long-ranger hit the bar, Johansen produced a wonderful cross-field ball Floyd Ayite, who couldn’t quite perfect his instinctive volley, then Cairney saw his long-range drive pushed away by Scott Carson.

At that point, Rowett deserves credit for making positive substitutions: Ikechi Anya and David Nugent injected fresh energy that saw Tom Lawrence come to life, the ex-Ipswich man producing a right-wing cross that Anya missed by millimetres.

While Slav’s men tried to grab a goal in the closing stages, fear of opening themselves up and conceding a second before the return leg got the better of them. They were also repelled by Derby’s dogged defending: more of that will be required from Rowett’s men back at Craven Cottage.

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