Rams worthy of a point but lack of cutting edge means they can't make it three
DERBY County's final game of 2012 highlighted one of the reasons why they will finish the year in mid-table and not higher.
There has been a shortage of goals on the road with only 11 in 13 away games.
No team in the Championship has scored fewer.
Saturday's 1-1 draw provided another example of what is a frustrating fact.
A point in a terrific cut-and-thrust tussle with Charlton Athletic at the Valley was thoroughly deserved but the Rams could easily have returned from south London with three.
They had enough chances, enough corners (16) and enough set-pieces to have scored more than once.
They were denied by goalkeeper Ben Hamer, the woodwork and cursed their luck at times as the ball failed to drop kindly in the box.
They battered on the Charlton door in the final 20 minutes but the home side clung on with 10 men following defender Michael Morrison's dismissal.
Nigel Clough has spoken of the need for a bit of extra quality in certain areas and the final third is one such area, because Derby are making enough inroads.
They have to start taking a greater percentage of their openings.
A failure to take opportunities leaves a team vulnerable and the Rams could quite as easily have lost at Charlton despite their positive display.
Charlton, determined to halt a run of three consecutive defeats, enjoyed good spells either side of half-time.
They led through Danny Haynes' stunning strike in the 20th minute and missed a glorious chance to double their advantage when Bradley Pritchard, eight yards out and with the goal at his mercy, sent the ball crashing against the underside of the bar.
Such fine lines decide the outcome of many matches.
A second Charlton goal then would have made life extremely difficult for Derby.
Instead, the game swung back their way.
Morrison brought down John Brayford as Charlton struggled to deal with one of the many corners. His second yellow card was followed by a red and substitute Jamie Ward converted the 71st-minute penalty with what was only his second touch after he had replaced the injured Will Hughes.
The match went ahead after an early-morning pitch inspection but there was the fear that further rain could put the fixture in jeopardy.
A stiff breeze kept the threatening clouds moving and the heavy rain that was forecast did not materialise until late in the game.
Tricky playing surfaces used to be the norm at this time of the year and the conditions added to the spectacle rather than hindered it.
Nigel Clough was spot-on when he labelled it a bit of a throwback.
"It was a very good game to watch," he added. "There were two honest sides out there, two sides having a go at each other, trying to win the game."
Clough made four changes and went with a 4-4-2 formation.
Craig Bryson and Mark O'Brien missed out with injuries. Michael Jacobs made way for Ben Davies, who came in on the left side of midfield for his first start of the season. Conor Sammon also dropped to the bench.
In came Nathan Tyson, for a rare start, Theo Robinson and James O'Connor. Derby felt the pacy pair of Tyson and Robinson skating over the wet surface would unsettle Charlton and it did.
Both had chances in the first half, while Davies' delivery at set-pieces caused problems.
Derby dominated the opening 20 minutes and Charlton looked short of confidence and ideas before a spectacular goal out of the blue gave Chris Powell's side a huge lift.
Haynes was forced wide but the striker was able to turn and meander back inside from where he unleashed an unstoppable shot from 25 yards. The ball arrowed across Adam Legzdins and into the top corner.
It was only the second time Charlton had scored a first-half goal in nine matches.
Derby shook off what was an unfair blow and Hamer saved from Robinson and Tyson before Hughes' volley dipped just over.
At the other end, Morrison glanced a header wide from a good position and Bradley Wright-Phillips, on for Haynes, who had pulled up with a hamstring problem, saw his effort blocked by Legzdins on the stroke of half-time.
Referee Carl Boyeson did not have a good first half. He left many puzzled when he booked Rams skipper Richard Keogh following a clash of heads and despite Charlton having the lead, the official was booed off at the break by the home fans!
Concern over the pace of Wright-Phillips saw Derby switch John Brayford to centre-back and O'Connor to right-back at the start of the second half.
Brayford made his 100th appearance for the club and he was excellent throughout.
He and Legzdins helped to keep Charlton at bay. Legzdins kept out strikes from Cedric Evina and Johnnie Jackson and Dale Stephens volleyed over before Pritchard's miss proved to be a turning point.
And Derby made the most of the let-off.
Morrison, who had been booked in the first half, conceded a penalty when he slid in on Brayford and a second booking ended the defender's participation.
Ward tucked away the spot kick, a nice moment for the striker, who had returned to action after three months out with hamstring trouble.
He now has five goals in nine games this season but a tight hamstring forced him off six minutes from the end. The hope is that the latest setback is not too serious because Derby have missed the spark Ward can provide.
There was a strong feeling that if Derby got one goal, they could get another, especially with a numerical advantage.
And they would have done but for Charlton's resilience in the closing stages.
Sammon made a difference when he came on for Tyson, a good response to being left out, and Paul Coutts produced one of his most effective performances away from home.
Hamer's wonderful double save denied Robinson and Sammon, and Brayford was inches away from winning it when his header struck the foot of a post, although the defender was needed to make a crucial late clearance in his own area to prevent Charlton nicking all the points. It was that kind of game.
A point on the road should never be sniffed at but Derby could do with sharpening their cutting edge as they head into 2013.