Queen's Park Rangers' unbeaten home record last season is unlikely to be replicated now they have reached the Coca-Cola Championship, or the First Division as it was called. Nonetheless, to battle against the power of the sun at Loftus Road as well as the formidable physical strength of Rotherham and achieve a point was not an unpromising start.
The Rangers manager, Ian Holloway, did a remarkable job to inspire a dedicated team to promotion last season and was proud of the fact that there was a selfless attitude rare in today's game. The club had been unable to offer the players much money and only half had contracts. The financial situation now is not much better, so what matters is whether anything further can be built on belief alone.
Rotherham know all about the struggle involved in staying in this division with little more in their favour than a strong work ethic and pride. Yesterday, they began with familiar resolve, making Chris Day ease away a first-minute header from Richard Barker that threatened to squeeze inside the far post, but Rangers reacted with purpose and thought.
Kevin Gallen swept the ball wide to Richard Johnson, whose centre descended, as accurate as it could possibly have been, to Gareth Ainsworth, and his strong header had Rangers a goal ahead in only the fifth minute. Yet, as if to emphasise this is not going to be a comfortable season for Rangers, Rotherham quickly responded. A 15th-minute free kick, raised from the right, ended with Barker heading back across the goalmouth for Paul Shaw, the former Sheffield United midfield player, to beat Day with an accurate and sturdy header of his own.
If Rangers' promotion season was built on determination, it was not devoid of some attractive football, which emerged again as they attempted to regain the lead. Over the final 15 minutes of the first half, they consistently broke through Rotherham's midfield at a pace that defied the oven-like conditions. A particularly incisive move shortly before half-time saw Ainsworth release Paul Furlong in the penalty area, and he almost beat the stretching touch of Mike Pollitt, who just managed to elevate the ball over the bar.
As the heat began to draw the energy, so the draw became the most likely outcome. Bravely, Ainsworth made a couple of 40-yard runs for Rangers but the long ball became the preferred option for Rotherham, who relied greatly on the ability of Michael Proctor and Barker to bring it under control. Proctor, particularly, did that neatly, several times turning and beating Rangers' central defenders without quite making enough of his advantage.
In an effort to relieve the pressure on dehydrating bodies, both managers made full use of their substitutes. Even so, there was a lurking feeling that had there been a consensus among the players, they would have agreed that 1-1 would be a fair day's reward for an arduous day's effort. Yet in the last five minutes Rangers still managed to throw themselves forward in a final attempt to prove not who was the better team so much as who had the greatest stamina.
Gallen, an inspiration throughout, bustled into the crowded Rotherham goalmouth and his downward header demanded that Pollitt dive to clear it away, and with it secure the proper outcome.Reuse content