Match ends, Derby County 1, Fulham 0.
Derby County 1-0 Fulham
Cameron Jerome scored his fifth goal in four games as Derby County gained the advantage in an intriguing Championship play-off semi-final against Fulham.
Jerome powered home a delightful header from Craig Forsyth's cross following a slick first-half move.
Fulham bossed possession throughout, but only managed two shots on target.
Kevin McDonald came closest to a leveller with a sumptuous first-time shot that hit the bar, but the Rams lead going into Monday's second leg.
A bright start by the Londoners, with midfielders Tom Cairney and Stefan Johansen prominent, set the tone for the first leg and suggested their final-day failure to clinch automatic promotion was not affecting them.
Derby seemed intent on keeping the early tempo high but struggled to get near the visitors, who had been unbeaten in 23 games before losing to Birmingham on Sunday and therefore missing out on a top-two spot.
The Rams soon settled, with the pace of winger Tom Lawrence, the power of striker Jerome and the movement of recalled 21-goal top-scorer Matej Vydra posing the greater goal threat.
First-half chances for either side were rare, but Derby led when Jerome rounded off an excellent move which saw Tom Huddlestone pick out Forsyth and the left-back send in the most inviting of crosses.
Fulham, who finished 13 points above the Rams in the final Championship table, had 70% possession in the first half but, like their hosts, only managed one effort on target.
Midfielder McDonald was desperately unlucky not to find the net from 20 yards after the resumption, while Floyd Ayite missed a glorious chance moments later when he volleyed over from Johansen's astute pass.
Cairney also went close with a fizzing shot that was well saved by Rams goalkeeper Scott Carson and a curled 20-yard strike that flew a fraction wide, while the excellent Lawrence came close to setting up a second for Derby on the break on several occasions.
Middlesbrough play Aston Villa in the second semi-final first leg on Saturday at 17:15 BST, with the winners of both ties meeting in the final at Wembley on Saturday, 26 May.
Derby manager Gary Rowett:
"It is only half-time so we won't get carried away.
"They give you a real conundrum, so as much as you want to press them up the pitch, you need to keep your shape.
"We need to show a bit more quality than we showed. We looked like we could counter-attack every single time but we just lacked the quality of that first decision or first pass to get you on the way. We had some really good opportunities on the break."
Fulham head coach Slavisa Jokanovic:
"It's not a bad result but it is definitely not the result we deserved.
"We cannot be frustrated. We played all the football on the pitch and we dominated. They scored a fantastic goal. In the second half we created many things without scoring a goal.
"We must be confident. We showed our quality and a great mentality too. We have to change the story and win the game on Monday.
"We have to be a bit more clinical. That is the plan. We showed we can play good football but we didn't score the goals."
- 15JohnsonBooked at 86mins
- 19WeimannBooked at 77minsSubstituted forHansonat 90'minutes
- 23VydraSubstituted forAnyaat 68'minutes
- 32JeromeSubstituted forNugentat 68'minutes
- 8JohansenBooked at 85minsSubstituted forNorwoodat 88'minutes
- 11AyitéSubstituted forPiazonat 76'minutes
- 3R SessegnonSubstituted forKebanoat 76'minutes
- Roger East
- Shots on Target
Second Half ends, Derby County 1, Fulham 0.
Corner, Fulham. Conceded by Andre Wisdom.
Substitution, Derby County. Jamie Hanson replaces Andreas Weimann.
Attempt missed. Aleksandar Mitrovic (Fulham) header from the centre of the box is high and wide to the left. Assisted by Ryan Fredericks with a cross.
Substitution, Fulham. Oliver Norwood replaces Stefan Johansen.
Attempt missed. Tom Cairney (Fulham) left footed shot from outside the box is close, but misses to the left. Assisted by Lucas Piazon.
Bradley Johnson (Derby County) is shown the yellow card for a bad foul.
Tom Cairney (Fulham) wins a free kick in the defensive half.
Foul by Bradley Johnson (Derby County).
Stefan Johansen (Fulham) is shown the yellow card for a bad foul.
Foul by Stefan Johansen (Fulham).
Richard Keogh (Derby County) wins a free kick in the attacking half.
Corner, Fulham. Conceded by Curtis Davies.
Attempt blocked. Aleksandar Mitrovic (Fulham) right footed shot from the centre of the box is blocked. Assisted by Tom Cairney.
Lucas Piazon (Fulham) wins a free kick in the attacking half.
Foul by Tom Lawrence (Derby County).
Corner, Fulham. Conceded by Bradley Johnson.
Corner, Fulham. Conceded by Ikechi Anya.
Attempt missed. Tom Lawrence (Derby County) left footed shot from outside the box is high and wide to the left. Assisted by Ikechi Anya.