Fulham 2-0 Derby (2-1 on agg): the Cottagers comeback to make it to the playoff finals
By Daniel J. McLaughlin
Football curses are, of course, irrational. They are just hoodoo that ignores the performances and circumstances on the pitch. But curses are not easy to ignore.
Before Fulham hosted Derby County at Craven Cottage on Monday night, the Cottagers had failed to win seven playoff semi-final ties, going back to 1989.
Slaviša Jokanović's side were determined not to take it eight. Their last loss came at Pride Park against Derby, who were 1-0 up on aggregate for the race to the Premier League. A curse was lifted as Fulham came one step closer to promotion with a comeback in the second tie booking them a date to Wembley.
Although there are just over 10 miles between Craven Cottage and Wembley, it will be the Cottagers' first trip to the national stadium in 43 years. They will play either Aston Villa or Middlesbrough in the final for the chance of promotion to the top-tier, and the £170 million prize that comes with it.
Fulham are just one game away from a return to the Premier League for the first time since their relegation in 2014. They finished third in the Championship, 13 points ahead of the Rams, but missed out on automatic promotion after a final-day defeat at Birmingham.
They were helped along the way with a display of exciting and attacking football. Craven Cottage has been a fortress for the West London side who are unbeaten at home since October. With thanks to boy wonder Ryan Sessegnon and Denis Odoi, their impressive home run continues.
The Rams, who frustrated their opponents in the first leg, looked to continue this strategy. Goalkeeper Scott Carson was on fine form for the visitors, somehow denying a towering header from Aleksandar Mitrović with an excellent one-handed save. The Derby stopper also denied efforts from Ryan Fredericks and Aboubakar Kamara.
Youngster Sessegnon fired his side ahead just after the teams returned for the second half. A cross into the box from loanee Matt Targett found Stefan Johansen who chested it down to Sessegnon. The 17-year-old took one touch before firing it into the top corner from six yards out. Before the game, his teammates said there was no pressure for the teenager to perform - and he certainly didn't look under any pressure as he coolly put Fulham ahead in the 47th minute.
Denis Odoi scored the winning goal in the 66th minute. The Belgian was the first to reach a corner from Sessegnon, heading it from the near post. The ball sailed over the defenders and the goalkeeper, firing into the far corner of the net.
Fulham will play either Aston Villa or Middlesbrough in the Championship play-off final at Wembley on Saturday, May 26 (K.O. 5pm).