Little separated Queens Park Rangers and Norwich City in the Championship last season, the former finishing four points clear at the end of the 46-match slog. The margin of success was again slim yesterday, but this time the London club had to settle for second best against their country cousins.
Meeting in the Premier League for the first time since 1995, Norwich eked out a nervy victory at Carrow Road courtesy of a second-half goal from the substitute Grant Holt. It was not pretty but it did end their four-match sequence without a win and regained lost momentum.
Paul Lambert, the Norwich manager, expressed his delight. "I thought we deserved to win," he said. "We started brightly and regrouped well after they had equalised. The players have been brilliant, they go out and do it, and I've trusted them for the past two years. Grant is just as valuable as everyone else."
Almost inevitably, though, Neil Warnock, the QPR manager, found something that, apart from the defeat, irked him. He was unhappy that the Premier League had refused him permission to sign an emergency goalkeeper on loan after Paddy Kenny had succumbed to a side strain.
Kenny joined Brian Murphy, his deputy, on the casualty list, with Radek Cerny, the No 3, earning a late call-up and Elvijs Putnins, the 20-year-old Latvian, acting as cover. "We asked the League, they thought about it for two days and then said 'no'," Warnock said. "It's absolutely scandalous."
Cerny appeared solid early on but the absence of Joey Barton, the suspended QPR captain, proved more difficult to overcome. There was little leadership in the middle, with Warnock's side relying on the individual bursts of Shaun Wright-Phillips and Armand Traoré.
QPR had warning of what was to come when Steve Morison bundled Anton Ferdinand out of the way to force a smothering save from Cerny. Andrew Crofts went closer, when his powerful 20-yard drive deflected narrowly over off Clint Hill, but Russell Martin got it spot-on, giving Norwich the lead from short-range after the increasingly hapless Ferdinand failed to clear Andrew Surman's corner.
Norwich responded cautiously, not buoyantly – they had, after all, yet to keep a clean sheet in 13 League and cup matches – and it allowed QPR the necessary room to manoeuvre. John Ruddy survived a penalty appeal, appearing to trip Wright-Phillips, and SWP forced a save from Ruddy.
Little changed after half-time. QPR kept up their -tempo and, after Jamie Mackie's low drive struck a post, Luke Young guided it in from a narrow angle. Match No 14 for the sieve-like Norwich defence.
Lambert had to act and did. On came Wes Hoolahan and Holt and inside three minutes they combined to restore Norwich's lead. Shaun Derry blocked Holt's initial header on the goalline but, after the ball had been recycled, Hoolahan crossed into the middle for Holt to touch past Cerny.
Meanwhile the QPR substitute Jay Bothroyd has pledged to report the Twitter user who allegedly sent him racist abuse after the game.
Norwich (4-4-2): Ruddy; D Laet (Naughton, 58), Barnett, R Martin Tierney; Pilkington (Hoolahan, 70), Crofts, Johnson, Surman; Jackson (Holt, 70), Morison.
QPR (4-1-4-1): Cerny; Young, Ferdinand, Gabbidon, Hill (Bothroyd, 57); Derry (Buzsaky, 77); Mackie, Wright-Phillips (Smith, 79), Faurlin, Traoré; Helguson.
Referee Mark Clattenburg.
Man of the match Wright-Phillips (QPR).
Match rating 6/10.