Queens Park Rangers achieved two not entirely unrelated feats yesterday that have recently proved beyond them at home – keeping 11 men on the pitch and avoiding defeat. They had a man sent off in three of their previous four home League games, alllost, but a more disciplined performance brought the reward of a point which could be valuable at the end of the season.
It put more distance between them and the foot of the table and nudged them up a place, above Wolverhampton Wanderers, who play at Fulham today. If some stretches of the game will be more memorable for the presence of a squirrel on the pitch than the football, then others hinted at better things to come for Rangers.
They could have lost confidence when Royston Drenthe put Everton ahead soon after the half-hour, but they hit back within six minutes, Bobby Zamora putting the decisive touch on a messy goal, and looked the likelier winners in the second half. Mark Hughes has seen his team take three points only once since he took over in mid-January, but the manager was upbeat afterwards.
"I sense it's starting to change," he said. "We are organised, I know we have the ability to score goals in the Premier League and there was understanding of what we want to achieve. I'm delighted with what we've produced. We'd have preferred three points but it was important that we have a platform to build on and kept 11 on the pitch. You can't affect a game when you've only got 10 men."
Everton are without a win since New Year's Day but they have lost only two of their past 15 matches. They could have been ahead after three minutes, when Tim Cahill's volley cannoned back off the crossbar. Then John Heitinga was too surprised when Drenthe's free-kick reached him through a crowd to do more than sidefoot gently into Paddy Kenny's arms.
As Rangers fought to get back in the game, Adel Taarabt was his usual infuriating self, producing a flash of skill and a perceptive pass then losing concentration. It proved costly as he gave the ball to Marouane Fellaini after 31 minutes, The ball reached Drenthe, who struck a powerful shot past Kenny with his left foot.
Only five minutes later, villain turned hero and vice versa. Tony Fernandes, the QPR owner, who was sitting among the home fans at the end Rangers were attacking, got a good view as Taarabt drove along the byline and was brought down by Drenthe. Akos Buzsaky's free-kick to the near post found Zamora, whose glancing header appeared to go in off Denis Stracqualursi.
Of Taarabt, Hughes said: "He wants to try things and make it happen for the team. He has held his hand up and I think he understands the responsibility he has to the team."
Rangers hit both uprights in the same move just before half-time. First Taarabt's curling shot came back off the inside of the right-hand post; when Zamora squared the ball to Buzsaky, he hit the other from three yards. The home side pressed in the second half, but Everton held out and finished the game on the attack.
"Hard fought, a difficult game with QPR fighting for their lives," said David Moyes, the Everton manager. "It wasn't great but we got a point. We gave away too many free kicks in the first half."
Hughes declined to comment on a tweet from Federico Macheda, the forward on loan from Manchester United, who was frustrated not to make the bench. "I'd rather talk about the guys who worked their bollocks off today," he said. "A lot of guys are stepping up and having a real go."
Queens Park Rangers (4-1-4-1): Kenny; Onuoha, Ferdinand, Hill; Traoré; Derry; Wright-Phillips, Barton, Buzsaky, Taarabt (Mackie, 80); Zamora.
Everton (4-4-1-1): Howard; Hibbert, Heitinga, Distin, Baines; Drenthe (Osman, 63), Neville, Fellaini, Pienaar; Cahill (Jelavic, 63); Stracqualursi (Coleman, 88).
Referee Kevin Friend.
Man of the match Derry (QPR).
Match rating 6/10.