Just as many London Marathon runners discovered up the road the previous day, so Queen's Park Rangers are learning that the final mile can be the hardest part. Neil Warnock's team have set the pace in the Championship nearly all season, but crossing the finish line is proving a troublesome process.
Nine days after losing 4-1 to Scunthorpe United, Rangers struggled against another team who have spent much of the campaign worrying about relegation. Derby County, who have only recently pulled clear of the drop zone, gave as good as they got for long periods at Loftus Road last night and might even have stolen an unlikely victory.
Nevertheless, the point Rangers earned leaves them eight clear of Cardiff City, with just four matches remaining. It is surely still only a matter of time before they clinch a return to the Premier League after a 15-year absence, although this result will add spice to their visit to Cardiff on Saturday.
Robbie Savage gave a masterful display in front of the Derby back four. The 36-year-old Welshman, who is retiring at the end of the season, was given the job of stamping out Rangers' biggest threat, Adel Taarabt, although he took it too literally in the early stages.
Savage was booked for a foul on his opposing captain after only 13 minutes and enraged the home side when he appeared to kick the ball at the Moroccan as he lay on the ground. Routledge, who was the first to push Savage away in the ensuing melee, also saw yellow.
Taarabt had threatened to open up Derby in the opening exchanges but Savage quickly found the measure of the striker, who faded in the second half and was substituted with 20 minutes remaining, upon which he hurled his gloves to the floor in disgust.
With Wayne Routledge attacking down the right and Tommy Smith looking to provide support for Heidar Helguson, Rangers created several half chances in the opening stages. Routledge shot wide from an acute angle and Smith headed over the bar.
Derby, nevertheless, might have taken all three points. Although his team defended in numbers, Nigel Clough fielded an adventurous line-up at the other end of the pitch, with Jamie Ward pushing up in support of Theo Robinson and Stephen Pearson, who had the best chance 17 minutes into the second half.
Ward beat Bradley Orr with ease down the left wing, ran to the byline and rolled the ball perfectly into the path of Pearson, who shot first time from 10 yards out. A goal looked certain, but Paddy Kenny pushed the ball over the bar.
Clough talked about "a brilliant point and a brilliant performance" and was full of praise for Savage. Warnock said he also admired the Welshman, though his compliment sounded back-handed. "With the ability he's got he's done fantastically to make a living the way he has," Warnock said. "You can love him or loathe him. He's a bit like me really."
Queen's Park Rangers (4-4-2): Kenny; Orr, Connolly, Gorkss, Hill; Routledge (Miller, 83), Derry, Faurlin, Smith; Taarabt (Agyemang, 71), Helguson (Hulse, 85). Substitutes not used Cerny (gk), Buzsaky, Ephraim, Shittu.
Derby County (4-1-2-3): Jones; Brayford, Barker, Ayala, Roberts; Savage; Pearson (Anderson, 89), Bailey; Robinson, S Davies (Leacock, 90), Ward.
Substitutes not used Atkins (gk), Porter, Doyle, Bueno, Ben Davies.
Referee D Deadman (Cambridgeshire).Reuse content