Derby 2 Fulham 2
Emanuel Villa’s late header failed to save Derby as their relegation fate was finally sealed at Pride Park – but Fulham were left shaking their heads at more away-day woe.
Hameur Bouazza’s heavily-deflected 77th-minute effort looked set to finally bring an end to the Cottagers’ 32-match winless streak on the road, and give their own survival hopes a massive shot in the arm.
But with the vast away support still celebrating, Argentinian Villa pounced less than two minutes later to steer home a Mile Sterjovski cross and add to the fortunate opener he had scored in the first half.
It was what Derby deserved for their industrious part in a surprisingly entertaining afternoon, but it was rendered irrelevant as results elsewhere conspired to send the Rams hurtling straight back to the Coca-Cola Championship.
After Diomansy Kamara’s 24th-minute equaliser for the visitors, the Rams had the better chances with David Jones twice coming close from long range and Robbie Savage mis-kicking a golden chance with the scores level.
Both sides had gone into the game knowing they would never have a better chance - Derby to sweeten a dismal season, and Fulham to end that winless away streak stretching back to September 2006.
And it was the visitors, still with survival hopes very much intact, who started best with the busy Bullard whizzing the first of many free-kicks over Roy Carroll’s bar.
The Rams had their first chance in the eighth minute when Andy Todd whipped in a cross from deep near the right by-line, but Villa was bustled out of a shooting chance by Aaron Hughes in the box.
It took the home side only 10 minutes to grab an unlikely lead and there was a heavy dose of fortune about it as Dean Leacock’s harmless drive struck Villa and wrong-footed Keller in the Fulham goal.
Bullard responded by directing another dangerous-looking free-kick over the bar as the visitors’ early dominance threatened to wane. Instead, the Rams found space going forward and Kenny Miller almost played in Jones.
Savage scrambled a half-chance straight at Keller in the box and in the 23rd minute Jones screwed a wonderful long-range effort which was heading for the top corner until the keeper saved well.
But just as the Rams looked to have got on top, Fulham responded with a 24th-minute equaliser after a quick-fire counter-attack.
Simon Davies’ cross from the right was met with a fine glancing header by Kamara which gave Carroll no chance.
A bright game which was far surpassing its billing continued when Miller burst through only to be denied by Keller diving at his feet, and then there was a loud penalty appeal after a shot by Sterjovski appeared to strike the hand of Brede Hangeland.
Bullard came close seven minutes into the second half after Hossam Ghaly gave away a free-kick in a dangerous area 25 yards out, but the former Wigan man lashed his set-piece against the bar.
And the Rams almost stole back the lead moments later when Keller raced rashly from his goal and mis-kicked on the right edge of the box, allowing Earnshaw a free shot which flashed across the face of the unguarded goal.
The Rams began to press with Keller parrying a long-range Sterjovsky effort just over his bar, and Lewis landing a dangerous cross from the left by-line on the roof of the net.
Fulham came close in the 65th minute when Bullard flung in another threatening free-kick from the left, and Paul Stalteri stooped on the edge of the six-yard box to send his low header inches wide of Keller’s right-hand post.
But Savage spurned the simplest chance of the lot in the 70th minute after finding himself in the clear on the edge of the six-yard box, only to trundle the tamest of shots straight at Keller.
Fulham finally looked to have ended their long winless streak on their travels with their bizarre second goal in the 77th minute.
Kamara raced clear and saw his shot superbly parried by Carroll, but Bouazza’s long-range follow-up struck the luckless Leacock and looped over the keeper and into the net.
Amazingly, before the visitors had stopped celebrating the Rams hit back.
Two minutes later Sterjovski crossed from deep on the right and Villa rose brilliantly to nod his second past Keller.