Derby illustrated their unwavering determination once again by coming from behind to beat Fulham 2-1, delaying the confirmation of automatic promotion for the Cottagers and keeping their slim survival hopes alive.
Following Luton’s win over Nottingham Forest earlier on Good Friday, Marco Silva’s men would have secured a return to the Premier League after one season away with victory, which they looked set to do when Fabio Carvalho tucked in the opener after 20 minutes.
But Wayne Rooney’s men were the better side after the break and, after teenage striker Luke Plange steered home an equaliser (51), a Tosin Adarabioyo own goal (73) sent the home fans wild and secured all three points for the Rams.
Defeat means Fulham have lost back-to-back games for the first time this season, yet they still lead second-placed Bournemouth – who have a game in hand – by nine points. Derby climb up to 22nd, nine points from safety with four games to play.
How Derby put Fulham’s champagne back on ice
With preferred bidder Chris Kirchner in attendance at a packed out Pride Park, Derby started with an encouraging spring in their step and prevented Fulham from getting into the rhythm that has made them so hard to stop at times this season
It took 20 minutes for the Cottagers to register their first shot on target, but when they did, they scored as a slick move was rounded off by Carvalho after his neat exchange of passes with Bobby Decordova-Reid.
The Portuguese – who has been heavily linked with a move to Liverpool – came close to a second shortly before the break, though Rams goalkeeper Ryan Allsop was equal to his low shot at the second time of asking.
But no sooner had the second half got under way, the Rams were right back in the game. They showed the desire they have done all season and equalised when Plange swept in a Lee Buchanan cross after a flowing counter that had started with Allsop.
Allsop was called into action to dive and keep out a header from a notably subdued Aleksandar Mitrovic and was then beaten by the Serbian, who tapped home after Carvalho’s shot had hit the post, but the lineman’s flag denied Mitrovic a 39th league goal of the season.
With 16 minutes to play, Derby took the lead for the first time. An unorthodox flick from Nathan Byrne released Tom Lawrence, whose ball across the penalty area – intended for Plange – was inadvertently prodded over the line by the unfortunate Adarabioyo.
Fulham pressed to try and salvage something from the game late on, but some late heroics from Allsop, who denied three players in quick succession, ensured Fulham’s wait continued.
Man of the match – Luke Plange
It has been almost four months since the teenage striker’s last goal for Derby, but his latest one could not have been more significant for both his team and others in the division.
Plange, who is on loan from Crystal Palace after a January deal, showed great prowess to pounce in the box after sustained build-up from the hosts and played a big part in the second, with his presence putting Tosin Adarabioyo under pressure before he turned the ball into his own net.
What the managers said…
Derby are back in action at 3pm on Easter Monday, when they travel to the Kiyan Prince Foundation Stadium to take on QPR, in a game live on Sky Sports Football Red Button. Fulham, meanwhile, return at 7.45pm the following evening, when they host Preston at Craven Cottage.