Red-hot Cameron Jerome edges Derby County one step closer to Wembley
- Credit: PA
Former Norwich City striker Cameron Jerome was the match-winner with a thumping header in Derby's 1-0 Championship play-off semi-final, first leg home win over Fulham on Friday night.
Jerome crashed home Craig Forsyth's inviting cross in the 34th minute to edge out the Cottagers and continue his red-hot scoring streak, with a fifth goal in his last four outings.
Derby are now in pole position to seal a Wembley spot ahead of Monday's second leg return against either Middlesbrough or Aston Villa in the race for the Premier League.
'A slight advantage,' said the 31-year-old striker, who joined the Rams in January. 'If you had given us that before the game we would have taken it. We know it is only half-time in the tie so we can't get carried away. We have to be professional, come in again tomorrow, recover, and prepare for Monday.
'We know what is coming. It will be a tough game down at Fulham but we'll be well-prepared. The boys one to 11 were magnificent.
'It is just being given chances in front of goal. As a striker you are confident that given chances you will score goals and the lads have started to find me lately. For me, it is great. If the lads can feed me that is all you want, ammunition to get on the end of crosses like that one. Thankfully I have hit a little bit of a purple patch and I am happy to contribute to the team.
'It is a massive team unit and I thought defensively we bossed then and forced them to play in front of us at all times and snuffed a lot of things out.'
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Derby only booked their play-off spot last weekend - finishing 13 points behind Fulham - but will go to Craven Cottage in front after an excellent defensive display.
Ryan Sessegnon and Floyd Ayite were off target for Fulham during an opening half an hour which was low on chances and quality. The visitors, while they had the bulk of the possession, were sloppy on the ball and Derby's pressing failed to yield a break.
But Pride Park exploded into life after 34 minutes when Jerome continued his hot streak to hand the Rams the lead.
A smart move eventually found Forsyth on the left and his glorious deep cross was met by the on-rushing Jerome to power a header past Marcus Bettinelli at the far post.
The goal settled the hosts, despite Scott Carson being forced into saving Aleksandar Mitrovic's low drive. Fulham have failed to win promotion in all three of their previous play-off appearances but nearly levelled nine minutes after the break.
The Cottagers needed to find an extra gear and almost grabbed it when Kevin McDonald smacked the crossbar from the edge of the area. Ayite then volleyed over a minute later but the visitors refused to panic and continued their methodical passing approach.
Carson beat away Tom Cairney's drive after 63 minutes as the Cottagers' threat grew before Fulham's captain curled wide with four minutes left.