TEN-MAN QPR made an immediate return to the Premier League as Bobby Zamora’s dramatic last-gasp winner overcame Derby County in the Championship play-off final.
The substitute capitalised on a slack clearance from Rams skipper Richard Keogh to sidefoot home on the stroke of 90 minutes.
QPR’s Gary O’Neil was sent off on the hour mark for hacking down Johnny Russell outside the penalty area.
Goalkeeper Robert Green denied Jamie Ward, Chris Martin and Simon Dawkins with a string of fine saves as Derby dominated for long periods.
But in an unexpected late twist, QPR – who were relegated last May as the bottom club in the top-flight – stole the prize to join Burnley and Leicester in gaining promotion from the second tier.
Rangers could earn an estimated £80 million windfall as Harry Redknapp, an FA Cup winner with Portsmouth in 2008, guided the West London club to their first Wembley triumph in 47 years in his first experience of the play-offs.
However, QPR could yet face sanctions at the end of the calendar year under the Football League’s Financial Fair Play regulations if they post another heavy loss at the end of 2013-14.
Rangers finished fourth in the regular season, five points behind the Rams, and edged Wigan in the semi-finals after a second-leg win at Loftus Road.
Despite bossing possession and having a host of chances, the Rams were unable to take advantage in a winner-takes-all bout worth £120m to the Midlands club as boss Steve McClaren suffered another miserable experience at Wembley.
The 53-year-old, who was part of QPR’s coaching staff before replacing Nigel Clough at the iPro Stadium in September, was sacked as England manager following a costly 3-2 defeat by Croatia in November 2007 which denied the Three Lions a place at Euro 2008.
McClaren took over with the club languishing in 14th place and oversaw just six defeats in 36 league games but will have to wait at least another 12 months to guide Derby back into the top flight.
? DID YOU KNOW ?
QPR became only the third team to win the play-offs the season after being relegated from the Premier League (Leicester in 1995/96 and West Ham in 2011/12).
Rangers became the first team who finished fourth in the second tier to win the play-off final since 1998.
Derby named the same starting XI which beat Brighton 4-1 in the second leg of their play-off semi as 19-year-old young player of the year Will Hughes continued in midfield, with Craig Bryson on the bench after recovering from a back problem.
QPR were unchanged for the first time since November from the side that edged Wigan in extra-time of the play-off semi as top scorer Charlie Austin, the first Rangers player to hit 20 league goals since 2001-02, and on-loan Wolves forward Kevin Doyle led the line.
On-loan Dynamo Kiev midfielder Niko Kranjcar overcame a hamstring injury to start and Yun Suk-Young was on the bench after being given permission to leave South Korea’s pre-World Cup training camp but Benoit Assou-Ekotto, Jermaine Jenas, Matty Phillips and Alejandro Faurlin missed out.
The dark skies and drop in temperature around Wembley did not deter the electric and exultant atmosphere as Football League chairman Greg Clarke and representative of Prostate Cancer UK, Brian Kilgallon, led the presentation party once the players emerged from the tunnel.
The Rams made a fast start as Johnny Russell whacked a free-kick into the wall after Hughes was hacked down by Clint Hill 25 yards from goal, but QPR were first to threaten on seven minutes when a swerving shot from Austin rose over the crossbar.
Both sides struggled to gain a foothold in the congested midfield area with Derby edging possession although QPR settled well with Doyle’s physical presence causing problems to the Rams defence.
McClaren’s side tried to build counter attacks with speed and penetration although their threat down the flanks was largely nullified as Craig Forsyth headed over Ward’s high-hanging cross at the back post.
Referee Lee Mason rightly turned their penalty appeals down when Hughes went over in the box as Richard Dunne hung a leg with insufficient contact between the players.
DERBY V QPR: MATCH FACTS AND STATS
Derby have won just one of their last seven games (drawing three and losing three) against QPR.
Only one starter (Charlie Austin) has not played in the Premier League before in the QPR starting line-up.
QPR won at Wembley, in their fifth appearance, for the first time since 1967. Rangers are the closest league club to the national stadium with their Loftus Road ground just 5.5 miles away.
Derby’s points tally of 85 would have been good enough for automatic promotion in six of the previous eight seasons.
The Rams had netted 24 goals in their previous 10 outings compared to the Hoops finding the back of the net just 15 times in the same amount of fixtures.
Steve McClaren’s side ended the season as the Championship top scorers (including the play-offs) with 84 goals.
It was the first time that goal-line technology was used in a Football League match.
It breathed new life and renewed belief into the Rams as Rangers, in their first visit to the national stadium since 1986, began to sit deeper but a discerning lack of quality was their downfall.
A pensive Redknapp was forced into an early change as Kranjcar came off with a recurrence of his hamstring problem on 33 minutes and Armand Traore took his place.
Derby expressed more attacking threat as the half wore on and came close five minutes before the break when Ward’s inswinging free-kick, which bounced inside the six-yard box, was parried superbly around the post by keeper Green.
The Rams began the second period encouragingly as QPR were forced to repel spells of pressure by retreating towards their own goal before creating their best opening when Junior Hoilett’s cutback was directed agonisingly wide of the post by Austin from 12 yards.
But their struggles piled up as the contest was finally brought to life on the hour mark when Russell was brought down cynically by O’Neil from behind just outside the penalty area after Nedum Onuoha squandered possession.
Referee Mason consulted with his assistant Darren England before brandishing the fourth red card in a Championship Play-Off Final and the first of O’Neil’s 15-year playing career.
CHAMPIONSHIP PLAY-OFF FINAL IN NUMBERS:
£80m – The amount, according to the Sports Business Group at Deloitte, promotion back to the Premier League is worth to QPR.
£68m – The club’s wage bill for the 2012-13 season as Rangers unsuccessfully battled against relegation from the Premier League. When they were promoted to the top flight in 2010-11, their wage bill was £30m.
27 – The number of players used by Derby County this season, 13 of those making 30 appearances or more.
Six – Derby last played in the Premier League back in the 2007-08 campaign, six years ago.
One – The number of wins Derby managed during that record-breaking season – a 1-0 victory over Newcastle. They were relegated in March with just 11 points, the lowest-ever total in Premier League history.
24,933 – Derby’s average attendance in the Championship in 2013-14. That is 8,278 higher than QPR’s average of 16,655.
18 – The number of full international players in the QPR squad. Derby have six.
4,264 – The total amount of appearances in the Premier League made by the 27 QPR players who have previously played in the top flight. For Derby, that figure is just 170.
25 – The number of signings Harry Redknapp has made, either permanently or on loan, since he became manager in November 2012. Since last summer, 19 players have been brought in, including five on the final day of the January transfer window.
2003 – QPR were beaten finalists in the third-tier 11 years ago in their only previous experience of the play-offs.
36% – The teams that finish third in the Championship have the highest percentage of securing promotion via the play-offs.
The dismissal lifted Derby’s spirits and left Redknapp needing to shuffle his pack as former Wolves midfielder Karl Henry replaced Hill with Barton taking over the captaincy.
Derby also made their first changes as Dawkins and Bryson entered the fray in place of Russell and Hughes.
34-year-old Green, promoted via the play-offs with West Ham in 2012, shovelled a low effort from 16-goal Bryson around the post after the Scot took a Jeff Hendrick pass into his stride and surged away from Onuoha in the box.
Bryson then cut the ball back for Martin, whose effort on the swivel was tipped away by a strong right arm from Green.
Derby, who beat West Brom in the 2007 play-off final, turned up the heat in search of the elusive opener but QPR remained well-organised and a tough nut to crack.
The golden chance arrived on 75 minutes when a well-worked move culminated in Green parrying a tame 10-yard curler from Dawkins before Ward’s follow-up effort on the half volley ricocheted against Chris Martin and behind for a goalkick.
The Rams pressed well to ensure no way out for Rangers and probed patiently as Hendrick’s shot deflected into the gloves of Green.
QPR, unwilling to take unnecessary risks, rarely pushed forward once reduced to 10 men but picked their moment to land the decisive knockout blow.
Hoilett battled admirably to win the ball from Forsyth after a throw-in from Danny Simpson before a lazy clearance from Keogh dropped to substitute Zamora.
The veteran forward, on in place of Doyle, sidefooted emphatically into the corner of the net to replicate his 2005 play-off final winner for West Ham against Preston at the Millenium Stadium.
? DID YOU KNOW ?
Derby suffered their first defeat since losing to Middlesbrough at the start of April having won seven of their eight subsequent games.
His fourth goal of the season was QPR’s first shot on target and completed an unlikely smash-and-grab raid on the stroke of 90 minutes.
Keogh broke down on the turf in disbelief as deflated Derby fans watched on while QPR chairman Tony Fernandes pumped his fist in sheer delight to the QPR supporters sat behind him.
Patrick Bamford was thrown on for three minutes of stoppage time and goalkeeper Lee Grant went forward but Derby were unable to find a response as the final whistle was greeted by a huge QPR roar.
The elated players formed a celebratory huddle with Zamora in the middle as the West London outfit defied the odds to come out on top in front of a record-breaking attendance for a Championship play-off final of 87,348.
The affectionately nicknamed ‘Harry Houdini’ – who was promoted to the top-flight with Bournemouth in 1997 and Portsmouth in 2003 – embraced his coaching staff Joe Jordan and Kevin Bond.
A dejected Derby, also losing second-tier finalists in 1994, dropped to their knees in tears but stayed out to sportingly applaud the winners as Rangers skipper Hill led the jubilant squad up the steps to collect the trophy.
Saturday 24th May 2014
SkyBet Championship Play-Off Final
Wembley Stadium (North London)
Derby County 0-1 Queens Park Rangers
(QPR are promoted to the Premier League)
KO 3pm Live on Sky Sports 1/HD1 (HT 0-0)
Derby County boss Steve McClaren: “It was the cruellest game ever. I’ve lost some games in my career but that is the cruellest. We didn’t deserve that but you don’t often get what you deserve. For somebody to make mistakes – we don’t blame anybody. I’m so proud of the players for what they’ve achieved this season and for how they played today. You could only see one winner. Maybe we’re not ready yet with this young team. QPR showed their experience, they made it tight but never looked like scoring.”
QPR manager Harry Redknapp: “An amazing finish to a game. Down to 10 men and then Derby start to create chances. I thought the centre-backs headed some great balls out of the box. I’ll be truthful, we were looking for extra time and penalties and then Bobby [Zamora] does that. What a finish. I looked at us at the start of the season and 18 players left us. A lot of them were very good players we had to let go. I took Richard Dunne on a free and no-one else wanted him. He’s been incredible for us and against Wigan and today he was immense.”
Possession: Derby County 68%, QPR 32%
Shots: Derby County 16, QPR 11
Shots on target: Derby County 5, QPR 1
Shots off target: Derby County 11, QPR 10
Corners: Derby County 14, QPR 1
Fouls: Derby County 11, QPR 10
Offside: Derby County 1, QPR 0
Assists: Derby County 0, QPR 0
Referee: Lee Mason (Lancashire) – 9/10
Assistant referees: Darren England (South Yorkshire) and John Brooks (Leicestershire)
Fourth official: Jon Moss (West Yorkshire)
Reserve assistant: Ian Hussin (Liverpool)