Fulham missed the chance to draw level on points with second-placed Leeds as they drew 1-1 with Derby County on Friday night.
The Cottagers are pushing for an automatic promotion place in the Championship but went behind to a penalty from Wayne Rooney 10 minutes into the second half.
They managed to rescue a point, however, through leading man Aleksandar Mitrovic and were fortunate to hold on to the draw.
Winner: Wayne Rooney
When Wayne Rooney left Everton for MLS last year, the veteran looked to have called time on his career in England. However, the return to Derby County has given Rooney the chance to grace English turfs once more had reach a special milestone.
Derby’s game against Fulham on Friday night brought up Rooney’s 500th career appearance in English football, and the 34-year-old marked it in style.
Wayne Rooney scores for Derby in his 500th appearance in English football. pic.twitter.com/wlbMU7ljYW
— Squawka News (@SquawkaNews) February 21, 2020
As has been the case so often since his move to Derby, Rooney was the best player on the pitch and looked to create wherever he could – content with providing assists rather than goalscoring. But Rooney did have an opportunity to cap the landmark with a goal as Derby were awarded a penalty spot.
So often over the years has Rooney proven reliant from the spot and Friday proved no different, beating Marek Rodek with a delightful Panenka for his 10th goal in his past 13 appearances against Fulham in all competitions. Class is permanent.
Loser: Derby’s attackers
Although they did find themselves on the scoresheet, Friday was another made showing for Derby’s attack – needing a penalty to break through.
The Rams are one of the lower scoring teams in the Championship this season, with Rooney’s penalty their 42 in total – 11 teams have scored fewer, but having also played one fewer game. And on Friday’s viewing it’s easy to see why.
Whenever Derby had chances in open play at Pride Park, they went one of two ways. Either the player on the ball was too selfish, opting to go at it alone rather than passing to a teammate in a better position, eventually wasting the opportunity. Or there was a lack of communication between teammates, resulting in rushed or even missed shots – particularly from set pieces that weren’t met by headers.
Overall, Derby’s top scorer in the Championship this season is Martyn Waghorn with 11 goals in 34 appearances, nowhere near good enough for a team with supposed promotion aspirations.
Winner: Marek Rodak
When Fulham lost 3-0 to bottom-of-the-league Barnsley last weekend, many fingers were pointed at Marek Rodak. The goalkeeper had an afternoon to forget, making one error leading to a goal but also being too easily beaten by the other two strikes.
This led to questions being asked by Fulham fans about his inclusion in the team, but on Friday night he redeemed himself. Quite simply, Rodak was the main reason Fulham left Pride Park with a point, making six important saves including a ridiculous one from Curtis Davies with just minutes to go, having to claw the ball from going over the line.
That it took a clever penalty from Rooney to beat Rodak shows just how excellent the goalkeeper was.
Subscribe to Squawka’s Youtube channel here.
Winner: Aleksandar Mitrovic
Although Rodak was excellent in goal for Fulham, they did still need someone to reply to Rooney’s penalty. And there really was only one man for them to rely on.
The Serbian had 21 Championship goals going into the game, more than any other player, and he has been a level above any other Fulham outfield player yet again. He’s the only Fulham player to have scored more than 10 goals and moved 15 clear of any other Cottagers player with the equaliser against Derby.
It wasn’t the easiest of goals either, as he had to move backwards to get on the end of a cross, taking the power off his shot. But his connection with the ball was neat and well placed into the bottom left corner of the net, beating Ben Hamer in the Derby goal. A strike of real quality that Fulham fans have come to expect from Mitrovic in the Championship.
We mentioned early about Derby’s promotion aspirations but after Friday’s stalemate, they are surely over for another season. The Rams – who lost the play-off final last year – now sit eight points behind Preston North End, who occupy the final play-off spot, but have played a game more.
Preston will fancy their chances of extending that gap to 11 as they host 17th-placed Hull City on Saturday afternoon. And even if they don’t win, there are still the likes of Bristol City, Blackburn Rovers and Cardiff who could end the weekend eight points ahead of Derby.
Derby only have themselves to blame too, winning just one of their opening eight games before going on another seven-match winless run just before Christmas. Time for Phillip Cocu to turn his attention to next season.
Winner: Leeds United
At one stage it looked as they Leeds United were throwing away their chance of automatic promotion. Marcelo Bielsa’s men went through a run of just one win in 11 league games between mid-December and mid-February, drawing them close towards the chasing pack.
But last week they beat Bristol City 1-0 in a tough battle while watching Fulham stopped by Barnsley to opening up a three-point gap. And now, after Fulham failed to win again, Leeds have the chance to be five points clear of Scott Parker’s men, a healthy gap with 12 games remaining in the regular Championship season.
Their opponents on Saturday are Reading, currently 15th in the Championship and realistically out of contention for the play-offs but also safe from relegation. The Royals haven’t been great and will be ripe for the taking if the right Leeds show up.