THERE was much talk before the game of Fulham being a dangerous opponent, a wounded animal, but it was no more than talk.
Fulham, relegated from the Premier League, are licking deeper wounds this morning after Derby County inflicted more pain on the struggling London club.
A scintillating final half an hour from Derby ripped the visitors apart. The Rams scored four times in a purple patch to run out 5-1 winners.
The rest of the Championship will have noted the convincing scoreline.
Is Steve McClaren's team, beaten play-off finalists last season, back to its best?
Not quite, but close. This may just have been a significant step in the right direction.
When Derby play high tempo and move the ball quickly and with purpose, they are equipped to trouble all teams in the Championship.
There was plenty to admire about the display, and this report will deliver deserved praise, but there will be much tougher tests than Fulham were able to muster.
The visitors fielded a team with an average age of 23 and seven of the starting 11 were aged 21 or under. They did not lack in effort and kept the ball for periods, but they were woefully short of experience and strength. Some of their defending was awful.
The experienced Scott Parker tried manfully to guide Fulham but they prop up the table without a point in what is their worst start to a league season since 1956.
On this showing, they are the worst of the four sides Derby have met in the League so far.
But that is of no concern to the Rams.
Their task was to react to an off-night at Charlton and dispatch Fulham.
They did after something of a tentative first half in which their performance moved up and down the gears.
What was abundantly clear from the opening minute is that they would have plenty of joy in the wide areas, especially on the right.
Twenty-year-old Fulham left-back Sean Kavanagh made only the second senior appearance of his career and deserved greater assistance than he received when up against Jamie Ward, and then Johnny Russell, with right back Cyrus Christie supplementing attacks at every possible opportunity.
Why Fulham did not attempt to shore up this fruitful outlet for Derby, only their manager and coaches will know.
If they did try, there was little evidence and it was no surprise to see the opening goal come from the right.
Christie and Russell linked for the latter to deliver a centre. No Fulham defender spotted Ward's movement until it was too late and he steered a volley past Jesse Joronen from eight yards. Good run, excellent finish, and his third goal in two matches.
Derby are still allowing their foot to slip off the pedal in matches. This is the inconsistency McClaren has mentioned and it meant Fulham remained in the contest, despite trailing.
The uncertainty appeared to spread off the pitch as well. The fans were quiet for the rest of the first half as they waited for Derby to lift them.
But the next goal went to Fulham nine minutes into the second half.
Ross McCormack's free kick thumped into the Rams' defensive wall. Fulham's £11-man retrieved the ball and clipped it into the area where Tim Hoogland's lay-off set up Parker to fire low and wide of Lee Grant from 15 yards.
In their joy at being level, Fulham forgot what to do next.
Rather than sit in for 10 or 15 minutes and frustrate Derby, and maybe string five across midfield in a bid to fill the gaping spaces out wide, they remained open and the Rams roared back.
Two Derby goals in as many minutes around the hour mark and it was game over.
Jeff Hendrick picked out Russell who cleverly cushioned the ball square and into the path of Craig Bryson who beat Joronen with a low finish, the midfielder's first goal of the season.
Fans had not sat down again when Christie stormed forward, slipped a pass to Chris Martin and the striker easily turned away from his marker to drive a left-foot shot low across Joronen to make it 3-1. A terrific response, and the stadium was bouncing.
Christie was a constant attacking threat from full-back, and Ward and Russell impressed, although Derby's wide men are unlikely to enjoy as much time and space in future matches.
Substitute Simon Dawkins revelled when he came on and had a big say in the fourth and fifth goals, as did fellow-substitute Will Hughes.
For a second time in the game, Derby found the net twice in as many minutes.
On 87 minutes, Hughes slid a pass to Dawkins, who beat Joronen but his effort rebounded off a post and Martin was on hand to score his second. He now has 30 goals in 69 games for Derby.
Dawkins was celebrating a minute later. Picked out by another perfectly-weighted pass from Hughes, his low cross-shot this time went in off the far post to complete the rout.
This was the fourth time Derby have scored five goals in a league game in the past year.
As the goals flowed, Derby's most senior player continued to go about his job quietly and effectively.
John Eustace was handed his first start since March and the 34-year-old provided a presence in front of the back four. This freed up Hendrick and Bryson, and Hughes when he came on, to support attacks.
Eustace was a key figure last season before suspension handed George Thorne the chance to come into the team for the final dozen fixtures.
His performance in the holding midfield role on Satuday was no surprise.
The big surprise is that it took Derby so long to recall him after Thorne suffered a serious knee injury
Eustace proved that balance in a team is often a greater commodity than its parts.