DERBY, England (Reuters) - Derby County moved a step closer to the Premier League after 10 years in the Championship as a Cameron Jerome header gave them a 1-0 home win over Fulham in the first leg of their playoff semi-final on Friday.
Jerome rose above his marker in the 34th minute to meet an excellent cross by left back Craig Forsyth and power it past goalkeeper Marcus Bettinelli to give Derby the lead against the run of play.
It was the first effort on target by either side.
“If you had given us that before the game we’d have taken it,” the 31-year-old Jerome, who joined Derby from Norwich City in January, told Sky Sports.
“It’s halftime in the tie so we can’t get carried away. The boys were magnificent and it’s a massive team effort.”
Fulham, who were eliminated in each of their three previous Championship playoff semis and failed to win a single match in the process, dominated but were let down by poor finishing.
Kevin McDonald rattled the crossbar from 20 metres in the 53rd minute and winger Floyd Ayite volleyed inches over the bar shortly afterwards as the visitors, who finished 13 points ahead of Derby in the second tier standings, piled on the pressure.
Midfielder Tom Cairney twice went close, shooting just wide in the 87th minute after Derby keeper Scott Carson had palmed away his stinging long-range effort.
The return leg is at Fulham’s Craven Cottage in London on Monday.
“The good thing is, we’re just a clean sheet away from (the final at) Wembley,” Derby captain Curtis Davies said.
“Fulham, with Wolves, were the best footballing side in the division, but they’re going to have to come out in the second leg and we’ll have to look to get them on the break.”
Middlesbrough are at home to Aston Villa in the first leg of the other semi-final on Saturday, with the return fixture in Birmingham on Tuesday.
The winners of the two ties will meet at Wembley on May 26 to decide the final promotion spot, with Wolverhampton Wanderers and Cardiff City having already secured automatic Premier League places.
Writing by Zoran Milosavljevic; Editing by Toby Davis