Shot-shy Rams losing their way
Derby's hopes of automatic promotion suffered a setback when they were held to a goalless draw by Reading at the Madejski Stadium.
It was the Rams' fourth match without a win this month while Reading's play-off chances were not helped by the draw either, as they have now failed to win their past four home games.
Both teams had plenty of chances in a scrappy contest but squandered with them with alarming regularity.
Derby had not enjoyed a particularly fruitful March, taking only one point from their previous three matches. And strangely, for such a usually free-scoring side, they had drawn a complete blank on the goals front in that spell.
Reading's inconsistency has also been to the fore of late, although they collected their first win in four matches when beating Leeds 4-2 at Elland Road on Tuesday night.
Reading started brightly. Royston Drenthe's wickedly curling free-kick appeared to be heading for the top corner until Derby captain Richard Keogh made an excellent clearing header.
Derby responded swiftly through Jamie Ward, whose decisive run along the right flank split the home defence. Although his final cross was good, Chris Gunter appeared at the last moment to hack the ball away from danger.
Ward was at the heart of most Derby's best efforts. He and Chris Martin had close-range shots blocked in quick succession as Reading began to come under pressure.
Another effort from Ward, after an error by Gunter, failed to trouble home goalkeeper Alex McCarthy as it flew harmlessly wide, much to Gunter's relief.
As the match gently ebbed and flowed in the sun, Reading gradually came back into it. Drenthe chose to ignore better-placed team-mates Hope Akpan and Hal Robson-Kanu and drove selfishly into the side-netting.
But Derby finished the half the stronger. Martin flicked a header wide from a Ward cross and Craig Forsyth, the left-back, somehow scooped an attempt over from close in after Ward's clever near-post corner had found him.
Reading appeared the more reinvigorated after the interval, with Jobi McAnuff drawing a save from Derby keeper Lee Grant and an Akpan effort deflecting off Kaspars Gorkss before nestling in Grant's grasp.
Derby replied after a mistake by McAnuff. As the ball ricocheted around the Reading area, Simon Dawkins had a chance to break the deadlock but took too long and was crowded out.
As the game became stretched, Reading also had a gilt-edged chance to end the stalemate. Garath McCleary centred hard and low from the right but substitute Adam Le Fondre miscued from just a few yards out.
Derby substitute Patrick Bamford raced through alone soon after but, with just McCarthy to beat, he placed his shot too close to the keeper, who was able to touch it behind for a corner.
Bamford also had an opportunity near the end but lost his footing at the crucial moment and the game petered out to an inevitable draw.