Fulham may be running out of steam at the worst possible time.
After a 24-match unbeaten run that lasted nearly half the Championship season, Fulham failed to secure automatic promotion with a final-day loss to Birmingham, and now the Whites find themselves in a hole midway through their playoff semifinal matchup against Derby County.
The Whites dominated 74% of the possession at Pride Park in the first leg of the playoff semifinal matchup, but former Stoke City and Crystal Palace striker Cameron Jerome hit against the run of play on 34 minutes, rising higher than Southampton loanee Matt Targett to head home the game’s only goal. Fulham built into the match in the second half, but could not find an equalizer as Kevin McDonald smashed the crossbar in their best chance with around 20 minutes to go.
Fulham has traditionally struggled against bunkered opponents, and the free-flowing attack was stifled by a quality defensive shape from the home side. Derby goalkeeper Scott Carson was also required to produce a fabulous save that kept out Tom Cairney in the 64th minute.
The match will see a quick turnaround as the two sides meet again at Craven Cottage, with Fulham needing a goal to force extra time and two to move on, while Derby could put one foot in Wembley with a single road goal.
Fulham, for their stunning form at times this season, has still never won a playoff match in club history, falling to Reading across two legs last season and now with a loss in the opening leg this time around. Whoever makes it through to Wembley for the playoff final will meet either Aston Villa or Middlesbrough, with those two sides set to meet for the first leg on Saturday at Riverside Stadium.