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Derby delay Fulham promotion party as Luke Plange inspires shock win
The Rams breathed life into their survival fight by coming from behind to win 2-1.
Fulham’s bid for an immediate return to the Premier League was put on hold again after they suffered a surprise 2-1 defeat at relegation-battling Derby.
The Cottagers would have sealed promotion with victory and the Sky Bet Championship leaders were on track to do just that when Fabio Carvalho put them ahead in the 20th minute.
But the Rams hit back and, inspired by teenager Luke Plange, claimed a victory which was much-needed after fellow strugglers Peterborough and Reading won earlier on Friday.
Plange drew the teams level in the 51st minute and the on-loan Crystal Palace forward then pressured Tosin Adarabioyo into a 73rd-minute own goal as they competed for Tom Lawrence’s cross.
The result leaves Derby nine points behind fourth-bottom Reading and safety, while Fulham must wait for their next chance to claim a third promotion to the Premier League in five seasons.
Events earlier on Good Friday had left Marco Silva’s men knowing victory would assure them of returning to the top flight after a 12-month absence.
And Carvalho’s first-half strike appeared to have them well on course for that target.
It followed a patient attack on the edge of the Derby area which ended when Carvalho played a neat one-two with Bobby Decordova-Reid, slipping away from Krystian Bielik.
And the Portuguese teenager, consistently linked with a summer move to Liverpool, did his growing reputation no harm with a composed finish for his ninth goal of the season.
Fulham looked in the mood to have the three points secured by the interval, and came close to doubling their lead soon after their opener.
Tom Cairney’s pass sent Harry Wilson away down the right and his cross was mis-controlled by leading scorer Aleksandar Mitrovic six yards out.
Curtis Davies half-cleared, but only to Carvalho, whose shot was headed narrowly over by Mitrovic from close range.
There was also a half-chance for Wilson whose header never looked likely to clear Derby goalkeeper Ryan Allsop but Carvalho might have claimed a second just before the interval.
Eiran Cashin’s poor clearance played Derby into trouble, with Cairney and Decordova-Reid combining to send Carvalho clear, although this time Allsop made an excellent block to deny him.
But Derby, who knew that even a victory would still leave them needing something special to stay up this season, showed great spirit as they responded after the restart.
And, five minutes after the restart, they claimed a deserved equaliser, started on the edge of his own area by Liam Thompson who launched himself on a lung-busting run that covered half the length of the field.
He then played a perfectly-timed pass for Lee Buchanan whose low centre was forced in from close range by Plange.
The equaliser finally prompted Fulham into action with Mitrovic having two headers well saved by Allsop in the minutes after Plange’s goal.
And the Serbian, seeking his 39th league goal of the season, thought he had it in the 65th minute when he tapped the ball into an open goal after Carvalho’s shot hit the post, only to be ruled offside.
With both sides desperate for victory for different reasons, it was Derby would find the winner as Adarabioyo inadvertently turned the ball into his own net to leave the Rams still clinging to their Championship status and the champagne remaining on ice for Fulham.