QUEENS Park Rangers were left frustrated this evening as they were held to a goalless draw by a determined Derby County side.
Marshalled by the enigmatic Robbie Savage, the Rams defended in numbers to all-but secure their safety in the npower Championship.
The fiery midfielder was fortuitous to remain on the field after scything down Adel Taarabt with a fearsome challenge in the first period – he nevertheless showed great reserve to aid his team throughout.
Taarabt flitted in and out of the fixture nearly supply a stunning goal for the hosts, only for Paddy Kenny to thwart Stephen Pearson in the second period with a stunning save.
In truth the creative guile and more importantly the rub of the green did not lie with the hosts as they look to pick up promotion against Cardiff City on St Georges Day.
Neil Warnock opted to remain unchanged from the side that came through a tough test against Barnsley last Tuesday night.
Paddy Kenny started behind Bradley Orr, Kaspars Gorkss, Matt Connolly and Clint Hill with Alejandro Faurlín and Shaun Derry in the middle of the park.
Wayne Routledge, Adel Taarabt and Tommy Smith started behind the lone striker, Heidar Helguson. Attacking options such as Ishmael Miller, Patrick Agyemang and Rob Hulse were also available.
Derby started with Brad Jones behind a back four of John Brayford, Shaun Barker, Daniel Ayala and Gareth Roberts.
Jamie Ward, Robbie Savage, James Bailey, Stephen Pearson and Theo Robinson started across the midfield with Steven Davies starting as the lone forward.
KICK OFF: Queens Park Rangers v Derby County
It was a glorious summers eve in West London as Rangers knew that a victory would push them closer to returning to the Premier League. In Derby they faced a side who they hadn’t beaten in W12 since their last promotion to the top flight in 1983.
It had the makings of a interesting encounter, with Derby looking to secure their safety once and for all, while Rangers were attempting to put some much-needed breathing space between themselves and third placed Norwich City.
Rangers would be looking to garner the spirit created at Oakwell the previous week, where a priceless win helped cement their position at the summit. Derby had other ideas as they began the fixture in the ascendancy.
The R’s defence appeared somewhat nervy despite the impressive statistic of a club record 22 clean sheets. Robbie Savage was putting himself about in the early offing to offset the ample influence of Adel Taarabt.
A corner from the Moroccan wide-right gave Rangers the opening opportunity, with Clint Hill glancing his header inches away from the boot of Heidar Helguson. Nevertheless Derby continued to catch the hosts on the break and Theo Robinson was the key proponent of danger.
Robinson’s header was well-blocked by Clint Hill when well-placed, and despite their positive play on the counter-attack Rangers would be the next to carve out an opportunity on the break. Once again it was Alejandro Faurlín who displayed his creative finesse.
His perfectly weighted pass was scuffed by ex-Rams forward Tommy Smith and Wayne Routledge lashed the ball wide of the left-hand upright. The forward who seems to relish scoring on television was unfortunately wasteful when well-placed for the hosts.
Barely minutes later an a major talking point ensued when Savage put in a distinctively poor challenge on Taarabt. The Moroccan had made a fool of the midfielder just seconds earlier and the former Welsh international flew into a challenge with real malice.
Savage is generally accepted as a loveable rogue, but here was a challenge that certainly transcended that reputation. Referee Darren Deadman picked out a yellow card to the bemusement of many, as surely such a calibre of table is anything but a caution.
Stephen Pearson was the next to wade in the creative midfielder as Nigel Clough’s Derby had clearly made it a key aspect of their game to stop the talented Moroccan. Rangers were now getting a foot-hold on the encounter and it was Taarabt once again at the heart of the move.
The resultant free-kick saw the midfielder send in a delightful set-piece only for Tommy Smith to glance wide of the upright. Taarabt was proving the Rangers talisman, growing in influence since the booking to his man-marker Savage.
He broke free from his marker just short of the 20-minute mark before sending a classy effort goal-bound with the outside of his right boot. Rams stopper Brad Jones was drawn into a smart save to deny and ever growing list of Taarabt’s goal of the season contenders.
The danger that Derby could provide on the counter attack was highlighted when James Bailey strode clear of a missing midfield to fire a shot inches wide of Paddy Kenny’s right hand post. While it was a fleeting danger, it was a danger that the R’s should heed nevertheless.
Savage used another of his nine lives when he brought down Helguson, but the man he was marking was able to find space once more on the half-hour mark. Taarabt cut a frustrated figure as he fired powerfully wide of the left-hand upright, despite his evident advantage over his Welsh adversary.
The Rams came into an entertaining half with Pearson slamming an effort high, wide and handsome before Kaspars Gorkss and Matt Connolly blocking efforts from Jamie Ward and Theo Robinson respectively.
The half seemed to ebb and flow with Rangers putting the majority of impetus on proceedings while the pace and trickery of Robinson was being utilised on the break to great effect. Only a speculative effort by Helguson helped stem the tide of home counter-attacking waves.
On the stroke of half time the Rams had a glorious opportunity to open the scoring when Robinson linked up well to drive past his opposite number Hill at full back. His eventual effort was rather snatched at, finding the upper tier – to the visible frustration of manager Nigel Clough.
It was the final action of an entertaining opening period that promised much for the Sky viewers after the break. Rangers were unable to break down a resilient Derby side in the first half, but would nevertheless come once again in the second.
HALF TIME: Queens Park Rangers 0-0 Derby County
It could prove to be a big second period in the season of Queens Park Rangers as Taarabt led his troops to the field at Loftus Road. A goal now would surely bring Derby into life and make the fixture a tad more open.
Faurlín nearly grasped his opportunity when he was well-placed on the edge of the area but his volley was wayward as it fairly flew over Jones’ right hand-upright. It was proving difficult to carve open the resilient Rams, as Derby nearly took a lead against the run of play.
Jamie Ward surged clear of Bradley Orr at full back and picked out Pearson on the edge of the area. His effort was stunningly saved at point-blank range by Kenny. The impressive ‘keeper had relatively little to do throughout but saved stunningly with 25 minutes remaining.
It was proving a struggle for both sides to carve out meaningful opportunities, with Rangers ruing their opening half profligacy. It prompted Warnock to make a change with just under 20 minutes remaining – Patrick Agyemang entering the fray at the expense of the disappointed Taarabt.
The midfielder dispatched of his armband before removing his gloves and strolling down the tunnel in a nonchalant style. It is something that Warnock has come to accept this season, but nevertheless it was ill-advised in the current situation.
It didn’t take long for the impact forward to make his mark, surging down the left flank before sending in a far post cross. Orr was marauding in from full-back only to glance his header wide of the right hand upright.
Henceforth there was a lull in proceedings and almost a grudging acceptance in the air that Rangers would be out-foxed on the day. Steve Davies was certainly not in the mood to curb his competitive edge as he followed through rather needlessly on Kenny.
Wayne Routledge was withdrawn with Gareth Roberts able to be firmly proud of an excellent defensive number done on the wide-man. Ishmael Miller came on in his stead with Rob Hulse also replacing Heidar Helguson.
In riposte Derby threw on two defenders in Dean Leacock and Russell Anderson, indicating their intent for the final five minutes. Nevertheless they came through after five minutes of injury time to earn themselves a vital point.
Rangers meanwhile can now look forward to a trip to Cardiff City next Saturday, knowing that a victory would all-but secure their place in the Premier League next term. On this evidence taking their opportunities will have a crucial role to play from here on in.
FULL TIME: Queens Park Rangers 0-0 Derby County
QUEENS PARK RANGERS
Paddy KENNY, Bradley ORR, Kaspars GORKSS, Matthew CONNOLLY, Clint HILL, Alejandro Damián FAURLÍN, Shaun DERRY, Wayne ROUTLEDGE (Ishmael MILLER 83), Adel TAARABT (Patrick AGYEMANG 71), Tommy SMITH, Heidar HELGUSON (Rob HULSE 86)
Brad JONES, John BRAYFORD, Daniel AYALA, Shaun BARKER, Gareth ROBERTS, Jamie WARD, Robbie SAVAGE, Stephen PEARSON (Russell ANDERSON 89), James BAILEY, Theo ROBINSON, Steven DAVIES (Dean LEACOCK 90)