Wembley-bound Fulham end their play-off jinx
Fulham 2 Derby County 0 (agg 2-1)
Ryan Sessegnon delivered another delicious moment in his sensational season as Fulham finally ended the play-off hoodoo which has haunted them for so long.
This was their first win in any leg down the years and it gives their fans a day out at Wembley for the first time since the 1975 FA Cup Final. The awful memory of last year’s dismal defeat to Reading over two legs was finally eased.
A date with Aston Villa or Middlesbrough on May 26 will decide who goes up to the Premier League.
The teenager, voted the Championship player of the season, has taken all the adulation and growing expectation in his stride and once again managed to produce a special goal when it mattered.
Two minutes into the second half of a match the Whites were dominating, but not yet edging, he was in just the right place to pounce on Stefan Johansen’s chest-down to fire into the roof of the net at the joyous Hammersmith End.
At last the Whites had the upper hand. Unlucky to be 1-0 down after Friday’s first leg, dominance of the ball and an on-target shot count of 6-0 after the first half had so far yielded nothing.
But the goal swept away the doubts.
And when Denis Odoi’s glancing near-post header from a Sessegnon corner sailed into the far corner on 65 minutes, the Wembley plans were already forming. Odoi. Of all players. Talk about unlikely heroes.
Of course it remained heart-stopping for Whites fans, but in truth their team managed the final half an hour with consummate ease and Derby rarely threatened.
The Whites were so close to taking a ninth minute lead, which would have eased the mounting tension much sooner. A breakaway by Aboubakar Kamara down the right flank opened up the Derby defence, but Sessegnon was denied by Scott Carson, despite the youngster having a clear target.
Aleksandar Mitrovic, who tormented the Rams’ defence from start to finish, went so close to scoring before the break – and to providing an assist.
The striker’s lay-off gave Stefan Johansen a sighter which skewed just wide and the big Serb glanced a Ryan Fredericks cross just off target before sending a low drive flashing past the right hand post. And he was even closer with a neat turn and left footer past the opposite post soon after.
Kamara – great on the night for Slavisa Jokanovic’s men down the right - got the better of Richard Keogh in another Fulham attack, before cutting inside to fire a dipping shot which troubled Carson. Fredericks also forced the overworked keeper to tip over.
But the ex-England stopper had to be at his very best to keep out a close-range Mitrovic header as the half came to an end – an instinctive arm preventing what looked a certain goal.
It was not quite all one-way traffic. Tom Huddlestone gave Ikachi Anya space to run into down the left flank and a low cross was not far from being turned in by first leg goalscorer Cameron Jerome.
But the moments of real danger were few and far between, such was Fulham’s mastery of the occasion.
Fulham: Bettinelli – Fredericks, Odoi, Ream, Targett (Kalas 76)– McDonald – Kamara, Johansen, Cairney (Norwood 90), Sessegnon – Mitrovic. Subs not used: Button, Fonte, Ayite, Piazon, Christie.