In the end Reading and Queens Park Rangers conspired to put each other out of their misery. On a day when both knew that nothing less than a victory was needed to keep their faint hopes of avoiding relegation alive, all they could manage was the most humdrum of goalless draws. Devoid of ideas and playing without any real sense of urgency, it felt like both sets of players had no desire to prolong the agony.
Even if QPR and Reading win their final three matches – and it has to be said that, on this evidence, there is more chance of Luis Suárez winning the Fifa Fair Play award – it would not be enough for them to catch Wigan Athletic or Aston Villa, one of whom is guaranteed to reach 35 points because they meet at the DW Stadium on the final day.
The atmosphere in the closing moments here was strangely subdued. There were no fans pictured in tears at the final whistle, just an air of resignation among both sets of supporters that the inevitable had happened. A return to the Championship had been on the cards for weeks and this was merely a case of hammering the final nail into the coffin.
For Reading, who have picked up only two points from their past 10 league games and paid the price for chronic underinvestment in the summer, the promise of up to £60m in parachute payments should allow the club to come back stronger. For QPR, that windfall will not come close to making the numbers stack up on a balance sheet that showed close to £90m of debt before this season's financial madness.
Their scattergun approach in the transfer market has lined the pockets of agents and players alike but left the supporters – the people that really matter – feeling short-changed. Mark Hughes made a disastrous start to the season, failing to win any of the opening 12 matches, but Redknapp, who has averaged less than a point per game since taking over in November, knows that he cannot be absolved from blame.
The QPR manager was being polite when he described this contest as "mundane." The opening 45 minutes were more like a pre-season friendly in terms of the tempo. As for the quality of the football, there were times when it felt as though the game should have been kicking off on Sunday morning rather than Sunday afternoon. One overhit pass that Stéphane Mbia played in the direction of Jay Bothroyd at the end of the first half summed up a match that everyone involved with will be keen to erase from their memory.
There was an alarming lack of conviction about both teams, in particular in front of goal, where QPR have now gone four hours and 35 minutes without scoring. They have averaged less than a goal a game since Redknapp took over, which helps to explain why they never came close to turning things around and climbing to safety.
Adel Taarabt, who is joint top scorer with five goals, is a mercurial talent but this will go down as another one of those afternoons when he was infuriating rather than inspirational. Two wonderful chances were squandered early in the second half, the first almost apologetically hit into the ground and into the arms of Alex McCarthy, the Reading goalkeeper, after the Moroccan was set up by Loïc Rémy. When the second opportunity was volleyed horribly wide, it was a matter of time before the substitutes' board came out and his number came up.
Earlier in the game Esteban Granero clipped the top of the crossbar with a whipped free-kick and Jay Bothroyd lobbed wide, after breaking away in the inside right channel, but QPR created little else of note. Although Pavel Pogrebnyak, left, came close to scoring in the first half, when the Russian was denied by the combination of Rob Green and José Bosingwa during a goalmouth scramble, Reading's best moments came after the interval.
Pogrebnyak will wonder how he failed to add to his disappointing return of five league goals this season. He curled beyond the far upright, after beating Bosingwa with embarrassing ease, and wasted an even better chance when he headed Chris Gunter's inviting centre into the ground and wide.
Adam Le Fondre, a second-half substitute, later nodded over the bar and Sean Morrison saw his 87th-minute header from Jobi McAnuff's corner tipped over by Green as Reading forlornly chased a late winner.
Man of the match Danny Guthrie (Reading)