Fulham 2-0 Derby County Six Things: Whites make history

Sessegnon scores again – mirror.co.uk

Fulham have reached their first ever play-off final after a 2-1 aggregate semi-final victory over Derby County was completed by a 2-0 win on Monday night, thanks to goals from Ryan Sessegnon and Denis Odoi. Here’s six things from the game.

Fulham’s freedom

Fulham played with fewer inhibitions than we saw in the first leg and thus their attacks were far more incisive. Aboubakar Kamara, who replaced wide forward Floyd Ayite in Slavisa Jokanovic’s only change, injected pace and drive; after an early counter-attacking move, he set up a one-on-one chance for Ryan Sessegnon to fire off-target, but the chances kept coming.

Derby’s deep double-pivot

Bradley Johnson and Tom Huddlestone had squeezed high up the pitch effectively at the iPro, especially in the first half, but here they were far too deep. Their positioning suited Fulham’s technical midfielders, namely Tom Cairney and Kevin McDonald, who had time to pick out passes into Aleksandar Mitrovic. The strong Serb had far more joy against Curtis Davies than in the first leg and fashioned a series of openings for himself, most notably a close-range header that forced a fine save from Scott Carson.

Sessegnon: poacher not producer

Wide forward Ryan Sessegnon had been a peripheral figure in the first half, but that is not uncommon: he almost purposefully avoids the build-up play so that he can ghost in unchartered at key moments, as we saw for the goal moments after the interval. Matt Targett’s deep-floated cross found Stefan Johansen, who chested on for Sessegnon to elude Richard Keogh, then to take a cool touch and fire home from close-range. The 17-year-old creates relatively little for his side, but few teenagers in the world can match his composure in front of goal.

Oh boy, Odoi

Denis Odoi has had his critics this season and at times rightly so, but the contributions he and centre-back partner Tim Ream make to Fulham in possession can go externally under-recogonized. Odoi started attacks superbly all evening, so it was fitting that he got the winner, beating Craig Forsyth to head Tom Cairney’s near-post delivery into the far corner.

Derby staying put

Gary Rowett introduced Kasey Palmer and David Nugent for fresh energy and while they threatened in flashes, Fulham’s control stopped the visitors getting high enough up the pitch to bring forwards into play. The result means Derby remain in the Championship next season; it has been a positive campaign for the East Midlanders, but they appear to have fallen short against quality, possession-based sides. Those struggles might tempt Rowett to make tweaks to the setup over the summer to help his side stay competitive in a technically evolving league.

Whites walk down Wembley way

Fulham meanwhile have made history; they have reached their first ever play-off final and made Wembley for the first time since 1975. The Cottagers are now odds-on to win the play-offs for those who Bet on Sports and if they do, it will be richly-deserved. Recent performances had sparked talk of Jokanovic’s side needing to be more pragmatic, but this was a reminder that strong belief in one’s identity can reap rewards.