Fulham v Rams - Report
Niemi denies the Rams victory
Fulham 0 Derby 0
The Rams earned their first point on the road this season but were unlucky not to come away from Craven Cottage with all three after drawing 0-0 with Fulham this afternoon. Both sides were desperate for the points as they both sat in the bottom three at the start of the match, but Fulham boss Lawrie Sanchez would be the happier of the coaches after his side was reduced to ten men just before the break when defender Paul Konchesky was sent off for elbowing Rams Craig Fagan.
Fulham, like the Rams have also had a poor start to the season and have now failed to win in the league since the second game of the season back in August and they had goalkeeper Antti Niemi to thank for earning them a point, the Finnish international pulling off a string of superb saves to deny the Rams and Fulham held on for a share of the spoils.
It was Derby who created the first real opportunity of the game in the 13th minute when a clever pass from Matt Oakley found Kenny Miller just inside the penalty area; the Scottish international`s shot was palmed away by Niemi, much to the relief of the home defence. Then moments later Niemi came to the home sides rescue again pushing away an effort from Eddie Lewis for a corner as Derby threatened to take control.
But the home side settled and went close on a counter-attack, Seol Ki-Hyeon should have hit the target when he collected the ball unmarked on the edge of the penalty area but the midfielder saw his effort flash wide of Stephen Bywater`s left-hand post.
Fulham should have taken the lead on the half hour when an audacious chip from Steven Davis fell to Danny Murphy, but the Fulham midfielder sent his shot straight into the arms of Bywater from eight-yards.
The Rams belied their position in the league and had the better of the chances and on 33 minutes Niemi came to Fulham`s rescue again with another stunning save. Stephen Pearson cross from the right was almost headed into his own net by Aaron Hughes but Niemi was alert to save.
Referee Phil Dowd lectured Derby boss Billy Davies after he had complained about another decision going in favour of the home side, and they lost Claude Davis through injury just before half-time with Giles Barnes replacing him.
But Fulham`s afternoon got worse when Konchesky was red-carded for elbowing Fagan seconds before the break. Fagan received a booking for his part in the clash.
The Rams continued to dominate in the second half, on 54 minute Niemi had to be at his best to push away a 25-yard strike from Oakley as Derby began to make their numerical advantage tell. Then three minutes later Niemi had to save with his feet at point blank range to deny Barnes a headed opener, and Pearson had a shot blocked and then sent his second effort over the crossbar on the hour.
Bywater was forced into a rare save moments later when Fulham`s Chris Baird let fly with a 25-yard effort, the Rams goalkeeper collecting the ball safely at the second attempt. This was Fulham`s best period of the game and two minutes later Clint Dempsey burst clear of the Rams back line only for the cross fell kindly to Hameur Bouazza, the Algerian striker took the ball into the penalty area before firing high into the crowd.
There were chances at both ends Fulham`s Dempsey forced Bywater to tip his header over the bar in the 67th minute from Murphy`s corner but the Rams regained the initiative and Barnes forced Niemi into another sensational save with an 18-yard drive.
Niemi then pulled off another fantastic save for Fulham in the 75th minute when Miller attempted to slot the ball beyond him at the near post. The Rams had the best chance to wrap the points up in injury time with Niemi beaten for once Miller`s shot rolled inches wide of the post, but it was their last chance of the game and the Rams had to settle for a point.
Fulham - GK Niemi, Konchesky, Stefanovic, Seol (Bocanegra 45), S Davis (Davies 69), Kamara (Healy 86), Hughes, Dempsey, Bouazza, Murphy, Baird.
Subs not used - Warner, Smertin.
Rams - GK Bywater, McEveley (Griffin 70), Leacock (Howard 75), Oakley, Fagan, Miller, Lewis, C Davis (Barnes 43), Moore, Mears, Pearson
Subs not used - Jones, Earnshaw
Referee - Phil Dowd
Derby boss Billy Davies was delighted to get his first point away from home this season.
He said: ''As long as performances are improving and as long as the club can see positive signs, we can ask no more. We are getting better. The players have worked very hard for me.
''The first point away from home is always nice. But we have just got to keep working away because it is a marathon.
''The big warning sign was there at half-time to the players because 10-men is not easy to play against. But I thought we put in a lot of good performances and created a lot of chances.
''Excellent goalkeeping on their part. But I am delighted with the spirit and effort of the players. I am very confident with the people that we`ve got, that we can consolidate ourselves in the Premier League.``
Sanchez said: ''I don`t think there was any argument to be fair. Paul has been our best player this season but what we didn`t want was to go down to 10 men in this game.
''The referee had no other option and now we miss him for three games which will be a big miss for us because he has been our best player.
The difference between the two sides was Niemi who made superb saves to deny Matt Oakley, Kenny Miller and Giles Barnes. But he would not have been playing had Kasey Keller not injured a tendon in his arm in training on Friday.
Sanchez said: ''Niemi earned his money today and about time. He`s had injuries but he had three games this season and he let seven goals in.
''He was at fault for some of those goals. Kasey would have been starting but he trained yesterday and then claimed his arm hurt.
''He has now got a slight tear of a tendon in his upper arm and could not play. I told Niemi he was supposed to be number one at this club, but he hadn`t done it so far this year, the first three games were not good enough, but today he showed he was a good goalkeeper."