Fulham sorely missed the clinical finishing touch of their talisman Aleksandar Mitrovic as they were frustrated by basement club Derby.
The Serbian forward is suffering from a ‘fever’, according to manager Marco Silva, with several other members of the squad under the weather.
Tom Cairney was another who didn’t make the teamsheet because of illness while others who did were far from at 100 per cent.
Rodrigo Muniz of Fulham attempts an overhead kick whilst under pressure from Craig Forsyth
Goalkeeper Marek Rodak was absent after being pinged by Covid tracing after flying back from international duty with Slovakia.
Without the staggeringly in-form Mitrovic, who has 21 already this season, Fulham couldn’t convert their many chances to earn an eighth straight win.
But with promotion rivals Bournemouth only able to draw across town at Millwall, Silva’s side remain top by a point despite their issues.
‘Aleksander and Tom were missing because of illness,’ Silva said.
‘We have had a problem in the last few days with a fever in the camp which affected six or seven players. It has nothing to do with Covid.
‘Marek is a strange one because he got notified that he came into contact with someone on the plane home from international duty who had Covid, yet he played on Saturday so the timing is strange.
Jason Knight of Derby County is challenged by Kenny Tete of Fulham at Craven Cottage
‘It wasn’t our best performance because we created more than enough to win the game. I am not happy but that’s football.’
Wayne Rooney’s Derby took their points tally back into positive territory after 21 deducted.
Their travelling fans sung ‘we’ll fight to the end’ and there’s no way this battling side would be in the relegation places if not for their EFL punishments. Taking four points off Fulham and Bournemouth this week proves that.
‘We’ll keep fighting and pushing, you never know, even if there’s a small chance of staying up,’ said Rooney.
‘It was a good point for us because they are one of the best teams in the division, they are a very strong team.
‘We could have nicked it, but a point was a fair result.
‘To get four points against Bournemouth and Fulham, they deserve a lot of credit. It’s been a tough week off the pitch but they keep coming in and working hard and they deserve praise.
‘You can see that the players are fighting for themselves, the team, the manager and the club.’
Fulham (4-2-3-1): Gazzaniga; Tete, Adarabioyo, Ream (c), Robinson; Seri, Reed (Onomah 66); Wilson (Knockaert 78), Carvalho, Kebano; Muniz
Substitutes not used: Las (GK); Hector, Odoi, De Cordova Reid, Bryan
Derby County (4-3-3): Roos; Byrne, Jagielka, Davies, Forsyth (Morrison 83); Bird, Thompson, Shinnie; Ebosele (Kazim-Richards 70), Lawrence (c), Knight
Substitutes not used: Allsop (GK); Jozwiak, Stearman, Sibley, Williams
Booked: Ebosele, Shinnie
Referee: Geoff Eltringham (County Durham)
The evening’s first surprise came when the teams were announced an hour before kick-off but Mitrovic’s absence meant an opportunity for the 20-year-old Brazilian Rodrigo Muniz to lead the line and add to his three goals already this season.
While Fulham enjoyed the lion’s share of possession during the first-half, the contest was actually pretty even when boiled down to clear-cut openings.
There were glimpses of Fulham’s slickness but not what you would describe as constant pressure to keep Derby pinned in.
Fabio Carvalho stunned their first chance wide after three minutes and they came even closer when Jean Michael Seri saw clear grass open up before him.
His 25-yard shot swerved deviously and crashed back off the underside of the bar, clipping diving Derby keeper Kelle Roos on the back as it came out but bouncing to safety.
Roos was able to react and change direction in time to make a save when a free-kick by Neeskens Kebano smacked Craig Forsyth in the face and diverted.
And there were chance in quick succession for Carvalho and then Muniz late in the half, both sent wide.
Derby’s travelling support summed up their fighting spirit in hugely trying circumstances by singing ‘we’ll fight to the end’.
Both Marco Silva and Wayne Rooney were in deep thought as they walked off for the interval
They would be 18th and looking up the table rather than towards League One if those two points deductions, totalling 21 points, had not been handed down by the EFL.
Rooney spent much of his career in a Manchester United team unwilling to accept the notion of defeat and he isn’t about to start now.
His team carried purpose when they crossed the halfway line, with Curtis Davies brushing off Seri early on to lay the ball off to Tom Lawrence. He cut inside but scuffed his shot from a good position and stand-in keeper Paulo Gazzaniga could save.
And the Argentine stopper had to be alert to push the ball clear when Lawrence was inadvertently played clear by Seri’s crunching slide tackle on Festy Ebosele. Tim Ream was forced to mop up and Fulham had been warned.
You expected a Fulham onslaught after the break and Carvalho was soon testing Roos with a low shot that lacked power.
Veteran Derby defender Phil Jagielka got a boot in the way of Kebano’s effort after he turned in the six-yard box.
Derby Captain Tom Lawrence went close to giving his side the lead on a few occasions
A sharp spin in a crowded penalty area saw Carvalho hit a shot that struck the base of the post with Roos grounded before Muniz headed the follow-up wide.
Fulham grew more frantic as time ebbed away. With 10 left on the clock, Carvalho showed more skill to work a shooting chance in the box but Roos pushed it away and Curtis Davies cleared Muniz’s follow-up off the line.
Muniz, not afraid to attempt the spectacular, then sent an acrobatic effort just over the bar.
Derby could even have stolen all three points in stoppage time when Gazzaniga turned Jason Knight’s shot behind at his near post. But four points taken off the top two in four days isn’t exactly a bad return.