Carbonari's error gives Fulham their due reward
The knack of grinding out results is normally the prerogative of Derby County but at Pride Park last night Fulham demonstrated that they have caught on quickly in the art of survival in the FA Barclaycard Premiership. The cutting edge may have deserted them and the cavalier spirit more subdued at the higher level, yet Fulham compensated with a performance brimming with resilience in the subzero temperatures.
Patience certainly was a virtue for spectators in the bitterly cold conditions. A goal from either side appeared as likely as an overnight thaw and Fulham, in particular, were guilty of woeful profligacy with Steve Marlet, the club's record £11 million acquisition, being the most culpable.
Given the negligible attempts to score, it was almost inevitable that the game hinged on an own goal, scored by Horacio Carbonari. The Argentine defender had provided a solid presence throughout only his second game of the season, but as he recovered ground by sliding in to reach Steve Finnan's cross in the 72nd minute, he succeeded only in steering the ball beyond Mart Poom, the Derby goalkeeper. On reflection, he would surely have left it to the hapless Marlet.
Derby will feel a sense of injustice at the scoreline but after their first away of the season, at Blackburn Rovers on Saturday, they missed an opportunity to secure a second victory in succession and lift themselves closer to the comfort zone just above the eighteenth position they still occupy. Fulham, for their part, have put distance between themselves and the bottom three.
"We got punished because of our mistakes. We had people out of position and they've gone through and hurt us," Colin Todd, the Derby manager, said. "But the most important factor was that we didn't create enough. We had to put back to back results together and this was a home game but we missed that chance."
Such has been Fulham's paucity of goals that Jean Tigana, the coach, decided to omit the player whose spectacular finishes were so influential in last season's promotion canter. The name of Louis Saha may have inspired panic among defenders in the Nationwide League first division, but that reputation has counted for little so far in the Premiership.
Christian Damiano, the assistant manager, said that Fulham need more firepower if they are to stay away from trouble for the rest of the season. "Our defence is good but up front is a weak point for us and we need more power in the penalty box," he said. "The difference with teams like Manchester United is that they have three good chances and they score three goals. It is important that we start to take our chances."
Saha came on as a substitute in the second half, but, in keeping with the pattern of the match, the Frenchman's close-range chance in the dying moments was thwarted by the agility of Poom. Marlet, his compatriot, who replaced him, scarcely fared any better.
Although he was been out of the game because of injury since October, the former Lyon forward has failed to set Craven Cottage alight and he offered abundant evidence as to why his goal tally stands at one - a tap-in against Manchester United last Sunday - since his transfer last summer.
A feeble effort early on more befitting an £11 striker was bettered, just, after the interval. The opening was created once more by Finnan's intelligent running off the ball and another incisive centre yet, as Marlet seemed destined to double his total for the campaign from close range, he was denied by an excellent save by Poom.
Derby's spirit rather than their subtlety almost brought a goal in a game bereft of genuine chances and short on creativity. The most notable opportunity fell to Francois Grenet, in the 23rd minute. He drilled a shot over the crossbar, as did Malcolm Christie, the matchwinner at Blackburn, whose shot was also too high shortly before half-time.
The giant figure of Zat Knight continued to cast its long shadow over the pitch, mainly in the territory just in front of his back four. Doubtless the Fulham player has been told more than once that he could have had a basketball career and indeed his defensive technique showed all the proficiency of a player in that sport.
Even so, a rare touch of sublime skill from Benito Carbone lit up the match in the 53rd minute. The little Italian controlled a ball out of the sky and turned in an instant before sending a left-foot effort into the side-netting. Moments like that almost seem to vindicate the huge salary that he has commanded at various clubs but they are so infrequent it is a matter of conjecture whether Todd will attempt to sign him after his loan period expires later this month.
Carbonari clanger delivers Derby's downfall
Fulham ended a barren stretch away from home with only their second victory in eight games but, after failing to score for three consecutive away matches, could hardly claim to have cured their tendency to fire blanks, requiring an own goal by the Derby defender Horacio Carbonari 19 minutes from the end to give them the points.
It was tough luck on the home side, who had been eager to build on recent victories over Aston Villa and Blackburn to further their hopes of climbing the table. However, it was their own inability to turn possession into goals that proved their downfall.
Quite apart from the falling temperature on a bitter night, an untidy, fragmented game was clearly affected by the other chill factor beginning to worry even Fulham as the season gathers pace, namely the proximity of the relegation zone.
Having been in it for much of the season, the experience is only too familiar for Derby. Had the result gone the other way last night, Fulham would have found themselves only two points better off than Colin Todd's side, which was probably not what manager Jean Tigana had in mind during his £30m autumn spending spree.
Fulham's struggle to score goals has not been helped by the injury to the club's £11.5m record buy, Steve Marlet, who was given his first start in more than two months last night after his scoring appearance from the bench in last Sunday's defeat to Manchester United. Even so, Tigana is still talking about needing to spend more.
His anxiety does not seem misplaced. In the opening minutes, Steed Malbranque's trickery on the edge of the box earned a free-kick, wasted in the event, and then Marlet broke clear only to shoot weakly. Until Tigana introduced Louis Saha in the second half, the home side appeared the more likely to score.
Malcolm Christie, whose goal had beaten Blackburn last weekend to earn Derby's first away win of the season, again looked dangerous. On one occasion, the England Under-21 forward sped past Alain Goma only to find defenders quickly back to block his way and the wing-back François Grenet, having offered himself for a pass, shot over the bar. Then Christie could not keep the ball down when Luciano Zavagno's cross, missed by Goma, found him in space on the right.
Early in the second half, Grenet was wide with a low drive after Benito Carbone and Christie had worked an opening for him, then Carbone, cleverly controlling Carbonari's long punt forward, spun and shot into the side netting.
Ominously, as it turned out, Fulham then missed the best chance of the game. A sweeping move from within their own half ended with Steve Finnan delivering a fine, low near-post cross that Marlet seemed perfectly balanced to convert. The Frenchman shot crisply enough, but Mart Poom responded with an excellent save.
Fulham, for whom Saha replaced Barry Hayles for the last 25 minutes, were beginning to produce some fluent play. For the first time, it was they who looked the more threatening and, after Poom had scrambled away a John Collins free-kick, they went ahead in the 71st minute.
Again the source of danger was Finnan, who was finding room down the right. Saha was the target as he sent in another testing cross but this time no striker's touch was required, Carbonari's outstretched leg turning the ball into his own net.
Although Christie went down under Andy Melville's challenge amid shouts for a penalty, only an excellent save by Poom denied Saha in the closing stages.
"It was a timely win but we are still weak in attack," Fulham's assistant manager, Christian Damiano, admitted.
The Derby manager, Colin Todd, rued a missed opportunity. "In a game like that we needed at least to finish 0-0 if we did not get a goal," he said. "After our win at Blackburn we needed to get back to back victories and we have missed out."
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Fulham grateful for own goal blunder
Derby's Horacio Carbonari did what Fulham's forwards couldn't - and put the ball past Rams keeper Mart Poom.
That 71st-minute own goal by the Argentine defender proved sufficient to clinch a second away victory in the Premiership this season for the promoted London side.
And although it needed a slice of luck to grab the win, Fulham were well worth the three points which lift them back into the top half of the table.
Defeat by Colin Todd's Derby would have left Jean Tigana's team only two points above the relegation line. Instead, they can breathe more easily this morning with that gap now opened to eight.
Assistant manager Christian Damiano, standing in for the media-shy Tigana, said: "This will give us the boost we need to carry on trying to play the best kind of football.
"Once again, our performance was based on the solid foundation of a strong defence. Derby did not have a single effort on target.
"And once again, we showed we need more power in the opposing penalty box. Top clubs accept a high ratio of chances, but we don't."
There had never been a goalless draw in this fixture, but a 0-0 scoreline to rewrite the record books was looming until Carbonari's horror moment.
Full-back Steve Finnan crossed low from the right, and Carbonari - making only his second appearance of the season following persistent pelvic problems - lunged in ahead of substitute Louis Saha to deflect the ball wide of Poom.
It was Poom who kept Fulham at bay, starting from the fourth minute when the Estonian international dived to block Steed Malbranque's shot from 14 yards. Steve Marlet was frustrated by Poom after 57 minutes, as the £11million French striker's shot from another Finnan centre was well saved.
Then Poom somehow pushed the ball round for a corner when John Collins fired in a 25-yard free-kick.
And in injury time, Poom prevented Saha - sent on in place of Barry Hayles six minutes before the goal - from doubling Fulham's lead from a Sean Davis cross.
Finnan, whose bursts often disturbed Derby down their left flank, admitted: "It was very important for us to get this victory. It lifts some of the pressure which had been building a little bit.
"With some of the other clubs near the bottom beginning to win games, we were starting to look over our shoulders. Beating Derby restores the balance for us." Derby, who had 10 efforts off target plus 10 corners compared to Fulham's three, were even more wasteful in their finishing against a Fulham line-up featuring young defender Zat Knight in a holding midfield position.
The intention was clearly to break up Derby's attacks before reaching the last third of the pitch, and the tactic succeeded for much of the match as Derby increasingly relied on the long ball.
They could never gain any fluency in their moves compared with Fulham's slick passing.
Francois Grenet, Fabrizio Ravanelli and the in-form Malcolm Christie were all too high with shots from useful situations, while Dutch stopper Edwin van der Sar was off his line like a flash to block Christie on the edge of the penalty area in first-half added time.
The Rams resumed exactly the same pattern following the interval, with Christie shooting over, Grenet going wide and Benito Carbone having another attempt deflected.
Probably Derby's best chance was when Carbone swivelled sweetly on Carbonari's long pass in the 53rd minute only to bury the ball in the side netting.
Right at the end, Christie was finally able to unleash his speed, but tumbled over Andy Melville's challenge on the edge of the area with referee Barry Knight waving away any home claims for a possible penalty.
Derby boss Colin Todd admitted: "We didn't possess enough craft on the night. I couldn't fault my lot for work rate, yet we never troubled their keeper.
"Fulham themselves have been going through a slightly ineffectual patch so we have to see this as a missed opportunity."
Carbonari error enough to give Fulham the edge
Derby County and Fulham could probably have played for an extra 90 minutes without scoring a goal for themselves and it was appropriate a miserable match was decided when Derby defender Horacio Carbonari deflected the ball into his own net.
While neither side could be faulted for effort, the quality rarely rose above poor. There was not even a refereeing controversy to brighten up the night.
The defeat leaves Derby firmly stranded in the relegation zone with Fulham moving to a comfortable mid-table position even though no visiting player has scored in six of their last eight games.
Derby have scored only more than one goal in justone of their last 16 Premiership matches and it is difficult to see how the Rams can get out of their current plight with such a powder-puff attack.
The 28 miles of piping that comprises the undersoil heating at Pride Park ensured a near perfect playing surface and the early stages saw some neat football from both sides even if the end product was missing.
Derby had the better of midfied where Benito Carbone was lively even if the Italian tends to promise more than he achieves.
The pace was frenetic and the game needed someone to put his foot on the ball but it was 100 miles per hour stuff with good football in short supply.
Fulham manager Jean Tigaga left Louis Saha and Luis Boa Morte on the bench, restoring Steve Marlet, who has had a knee injury, to the attack for his first start since October.
The club's record buy, who cost £11.5 million from Lyon, looked a little short of full fitness. In the 12th minute Marlet beat the offside trap and with Danny Higginbotham in chase, the French international should have gone on but shot and Mart Poom saved easily.
The huff and puff continued throughout the first half with the crowded midfield meaning creativity was missing.
Zak Knight, Fulham's 6ft 6in central defender, provided some alternative entertainment, covering ground rapidly which made one wonder whether he was incredibly quick or if his long legs enabled him to get wherever he wanted with the minimum number of paces.
A mis-hit centre by Darryl Powell in the 35th minute gave Edwin van der Sar an anxious moment as the ball landed on the top netting.
But there were few highlights in an opening 45 minutes when neither goalkeeper was overworked and those who had braved the cold had little to warm them.
A moment in the 39th minute summed up the pattern of the game. Poor defending allowed Christie to control the ball on his chest, tee up his shot and the Derby striker proceded to fire high and wide over the visitors' goal.
It was the best - in fact the only - chance of a less than memorable first half.
Marlet had another great opportunity for Fulham in the 69th minute but he failed to control Sean Davis's cross and fluffed his chance from six yards.
At the other end the lurking Christie just failed to get on the end of Fabrizio Ravanelli's flick-on in the box.
If the decider after 72 minutes was a surprise it was fitting it should be an own goal because neither side had looked like scoring in a poor match.
Steve Finnan made ground down the right and his cross, intended for Louis Saha, was intercepted by Carbonari who, in attempting to clear the ball, only succeeded it diverting it past Poom.
Derby almost equalised in similar fashion two minutes later when Francois Grenet's cross from the Rams' right was deflected by Andy Melville and the ball sailed narrowly around the post with van der Sar helpless.
Fulham should have sealed their win in the 89th minute when Davis played in Saha but the striker's shot from close range was superbly saved by Poom.
New Year, but the same old problem for Fulham.
Jean Tigana's side are producing football which is easy on the eye - but their bright and lively build-up play continues to be betrayed by their lack of penetration in the penalty area.
So it was no surprise that their first win in five matches at Pride Park last night came courtesy of a tragic own-goal from Ram's defender Horacio Carbonari.
It arrived in the 71st minute to give the Cottagers some breathing space after a dreadful December.
Fulham, runaway champions of the First Division last year, are finding it much harder to break down top-flight defences this season.
The league table shows they have managed just 20 goals in as many league games.
But they condemned Derby to a defeat which keeps them pinned in the bottom three and still in the thick of a third straight relegation fight.
Yet Carbonari's disaster apart, you would not have backed Tigana's outfit to hit a cow's behind with a banjo.
The Frenchman's No2 Christian Damiano admitted as much afterwards.
He said: "We always try to play football and, as a team and individuals, our technique is very good.
"It remains very important to us that we continue to play in what we believe is the right way.
"We know we have a good, solid foundation at the back, but we are weak in front of our opponent's goal.
"I thought we were guilty of missing chances."
Hitman Steve Marlet might well be the man to give them that once he is fit.
Marlet, Tigana's £11.5million record buy from Lyon last summer, was making his first start for two months after a bad-knee injury.
Marlet's ring-rustiness was there for all to see. But there were also clear signs that he could have much to offer his side in the scoring stakes.
Damiano said: "Steve is still not fully fit. But even so, he still gave us some depth."
Defeat at Derby was something Tigana and his players dared not contemplate.
Had they been beaten by the struggling Rams, Colin Todd's side would have been just two points adrift of the Cottagers in the table.
As it was, Carbonari's own-goal hoisted Fulham eight points above the drop zone.
Damiano confessed: "This was a very important win for us because we had drifted a little bit."
Defender Steve Finnan added: "It's getting all very tight in the bottom half.
"After four games without a victory, it was important for us to get some points on the board. This was just what we needed - it's nice to be in the top half of the table again."
With Derby failing to get a single shot on target all night and Fulham firing blanks, it looked destined to be a goalless draw.
But when Finnan whipped in a low cross from the right, Carbonari had to react swiftly to prevent the ball reaching either Marlet or Louis Saha.
The big Argentinian was unlucky to turn the ball into his own net.
Fulham start well
The undersoil heating did its job admirably. The players on the other hand proved singularly incapable of providing a numbed crowd with many excuses to warm their hands on a bitterly cold night in the east midlands.
An own goal by Horacio Carbonari 20 minutes from the end settled a game of nervy ineptitude, the Argentinian defender turning a low cross into his own net while under no pressure at all.
Though Fulham will welcome the points, their failure to score on their own account for the fifth time in seven games will have made it a long journey home for their manager Jean Tigana.
Tigana started Steve Marlet, whose goal after coming on as a late substitute against Manchester United on Sunday was his first for the club since arriving from Lyons and almost immediately picking up a serious knee injury, but the striker did little to suggest that he would increase Fulham's rate of scoring above their current goal a game.
With the tall young defender Zat Knight anchoring midfield, they began in lively enough manner. Barry Hayles's persistence in the penalty area set up Steed Malbranque for a shot that Mart Poom blocked and Marlet, making his first start for two months, also had an early chance, outpacing Chris Riggott but shooting straight at the goalkeeper.
The contrast in styles was marked. At times Fulham's neat, intelligent passing and impressive movement looked capable of pulling Derby apart, but as so often this season Tigana's team seemed unable to find the final incisive ball.
Derby, with Benito Carbone roaming in support of Malcolm Christie and Fabrizio Ravanelli, were rather more direct and unsubtle. But they still created chances.
Darryl Powell's tackle freed Malcolm Christie in the Fulham area, but François Grenet shot over. Pierre Ducrocq, unexpectedly finding a yard or two of space 20 yards out, also shot badly wide. Then Alain Goma failed to cut out a long ball and Christie, lurking behind the Frenchman, fired too high.
The second half followed a similar pattern. Ravanelli and Christie combined again to set up Grenet, but the Frenchman's side-footed shot from the edge of the area never threatened to find the target. Soon afterwards Carbone volleyed into the side-netting after turning on Carbonari's hopeful punt.
But Fulham's passing, though increasingly ragged, still created the odd opportunity. The best fell to Marlet from Steve Finnan's low cross, but the £11.5m man's shot from eight yards was too close to Poom.
With half an hour to go both managers brought on fresh strikers, to little effect. Marlet got his feet tangled up when Sean Davis's cross reached him and Christie was a yard short of turning in Ravanelli's knock-down.
But with the crowd starting to think longingly of home and other warm places, Finnan broke again down the right, slid in a cross, and Carbonari succeeded where Marlet had failed, sliding the ball past his own goalkeeper from six yards.
Derby's efforts to retrieve a point were frantic, but as unfocused as everything that had gone before.