RANGERS responded to back-to-back Sky Bet Championship defeats with a positive performance and deserved point at Derby County.
Hosts Derby – who had won five on the spin at home heading into this game – opened the scoring through Martyn Waghorn in the 23rd minute, whose stunning free-kick left Joe Lumley with little chance.
But Rangers were the better side in the first half and, deep into added time before the break, Ebere Eze’s seventh goal of the season from the penalty spot levelled matters at Pride Park – following Waghorn’s trip on the impressive Bright Osayi-Samuel in the box.
That’s where the scoring ended – despite both teams having opportunities to add to their respective tallies after half-time.
Following Wednesday’s heavy home defeat at the hands of Nottingham Forest, R’s boss Mark Warburton made five changes to his starting XI for this Championship fixture.
Angel Rangel returned from injury and at right-back, while there were also starts for Geoff Cameron, Marc Pugh, Osayi-Samuel and Jordan Hugill.
Lee Wallace missed out altogether through suspension – following his red card against Forest in midweek – while Todd Kane, Dom Ball, Ilias Chair and Nahki Wells all dropped down to the substitutes’ bench.
In a 4-4-1-1 formation, Rangers lined up as: Lumley; Rangel, Grant Hall (captain), Toni Leistner, Ryan Manning; Osayi-Samuel, Cameron, Luke Amos, Eze; Pugh; Hugill.
On a bitingly-cold afternoon in the East Midlands, Derby – who introduced new player-coach Wayne Rooney to the crowd before kick-off – fashioned the first effort on target inside two minutes.
Jayden Bogle’s fierce angled drive forced a smart stop from Lumley, before Craig Forsyth headed wide from the resultant corner.
Rangers responded with an effort of their own three minutes later – one which Manning should have done better with when presented with a free header from Eze’s right-flank corner. With time on his side, the Irishman could only loop a header over from 16 yards.
QPR started brightly enough and, from another corner, went close again on nine minutes. Eze was again the architect, then Pugh – with his back to goal – nodded just over, under pressure from Rams goalkeeper Ben Hamer.
The R’s seemed to grow in confidence as the first half progressed, Eze shooting wide with another visiting attempt in the 19th minute.
However, Warburton’s charges were behind against the run of play in the 23rd minute.
Amos was penalised for a foul on Jack Marriott 20 yards from goal and, when Waghorn stepped up to take the free-kick, he expertly bent an effort into the top right-hand corner.
Rangers behind, then, but the visitors continued to approach the contest positively.
In the 26th minute, Manning saw his low drive from distance tipped away from goal by Hamer, after patient R’s approach play.
On the half-hour mark, meanwhile, another strong low attempt, from Hugill, saw Hamer palm the ball around the post – despite the goal kick award that followed. Four minutes later, Rangel’s half-volley flew wide of the target.
It looked like Derby were going to hold onto their one-goal lead going into half-time.
But Rangers, who had controlled proceedings for much of the opening period, deservedly went in level at the break.
Osayi-Samuel, who had enjoyed a productive return to the side, was hauled to the ground by Waghorn inside the penalty area – and Eze stepped up to confidently slide the ball into the bottom left-hand corner in the fourth minute of first-half stoppage time.
QPR’s positivity spilled into the second period, even though it was Derby who fashioned the first shot of the half when an unmarked Marriott spooned Tom Lawrence’s corner over in the 54th minute.
Two minutes later, Rangers threatened as Hugill glanced Eze’s corner just over at close range.
The R’s continued to ask most of the questions, but it must be said that Derby spurned a fine opportunity to restore their one-goal advantage in the 67th minute. The Rams broke at pace and, when Marriott pulled the ball back to Bogle on 12 yards, he skied over.
Rangers made their first change 19 minutes from time. Josh Scowen replaced Amos.
As the clock ticked down, this game had become finely poised and, in the 74th minute, Waghorn directed a header wide. A minute later, Marriott thundered over from a home corner.
A second Hoops sub followed – Wells replacing Pugh in the 78th minute – while Derby also decided to mix things up with a double change soon after. Chris Martin and Jason Knight came on for Waghorn and Marriott.
Both sides subsequently pressed hard for a winner. Three minutes from the end of normal time, Scowen saw his half-volley deflect over following a visiting counter.
There was to be no further goalscoring action, though, this contest ultimately ending all-square after four added second-half minutes at Pride Park.