Championship play-off final: Derby 0 QPR 1 match report: - QPR gamble pays off with Bobby Zamora’s last throw of dice
Striker saves club from meltdown with late goal to take them back to the Premier League but it’s despair for Derby who were utterly dominant
To add to the injustice many in the Championship already feel about their outsized wage-bill, QPR yesterday committed an act of larceny unlikely to be surpassed at Wembley. Having been so outplayed by Derby County in this play-off final that County’s goalkeeper, Lee Grant, had not made a single save, QPR stole victory with an 90th minute goal by Bobby Zamora that may just have rescued his club from meltdown.
QPR gambled everything on this promotion, running a wage bill akin to that of yesterday’s Champions’ League finalists Atletico Madrid. When they failed to gain automatic promotion, calamity loomed. When Gary O’Neil was dismissed 58 minutes into this match, owner Tony Fernandes was staring into the abyss. Then Zamora, seizing on an error from the previously impeccable Richard Keogh, Derby’s captain, whipped a first-time left-foot shot past Grant to fulfil the Hoops’ dreams.
Harry Redknapp’s knee surgery has prevented him climbing stairs to attend press conferences most of the season, but he made it up the Wembley steps to celebrate with his team and chairman. He deserved to. Make no mistake, regardless of the wage bill and the high-calibre squad, winning promotion with a club whose team spirit was as fractured as QPR’s at the start of the season is no small achievement. They could easily have copied Wolves and slid straight into League One.
Instead Redknapp, just, has taken Rangers back into the land of milk, honey and millions. How much they can bank of the £60m minimum TV cash they will receive next season is open to conjecture. Having been promoted, QPR are out of the Football League’s jurisdiction and so cannot have a transfer embargo imposed for shattering the Championship’s financial fair play rules. Instead, they will be fined with estimates varying from £25m-£40m. But what happens if QPR refuse to pay?
Whatever the financial maths most of the players were playing for more meaningful prizes: those old-fashioned football concepts of pride and glory. QPR veterans like Clint Hill have been through the wringer in the last few seasons. For Joey Barton and Richard Dunne the match offered a return to the big time. For Charlie Austin relief that his decision to switch from Burnley at the start of the season had not back-fired. For Steve McClaren, redemption at the venue where his reputation nose-dived.
There was no sign of an umbrella yesterday, even though it rained heavily at the start of the game. But then, there was no sign of McClaren either. He left the touchline cajoling to coach Paul Simpson. But McClaren’s stamp was all over his team. While Rangers were a retro 4-4-2, County had a more modern look, 4-1-2-3 in possession, 4-1-4-1 without the ball, with the impressive George Thorne as the fulcrum.
Both sides eschewed the direct approach for a passing game, County in particular playing in triangles. It was pleasing on the eye, but did not produce much in the way of goal threat. The first period was more than halfway through before there was an attack of note, and then Craig Forsyth was too close to the byline to worry Rob Green as he met Jamie Ward’s deep cross.
Will Hughes then shot over when fed by Forsyth before, finally, Green had a shot to save, albeit an easy one from Johnny Russell’s shot. The former England goalkeeper was much more exercised five minutes before the break when Ward’s curling free-kick eluded everyone and Green had to scramble to his left.
And what of Rangers? The Championship’s team of all talents, everyone except Charlie Austin, an ex-Premier League player, had not mustered a single shot on target in the game that could save or sink their club. On the touchline Redknapp entreated his players, but they could not get a foothold. As the hour approached, QPR finally stirred. A neat move on the left ended with Armand Traoré cutting the ball back for Austin only for the normally deadly striker to open his body too much and steer his shot wide. Austin aside, QPR’s team often looks like a veterans’ XI and true to stereotype Kevin Doyle made way for Zamora.
Then came O’Neil’s exit. Russell suddenly broke out of the normally congested centre with a yard of space. As he burst towards the box O’Neil, calculatedly, tripped him. O’Neil had to go. QPR circled the wagons, pulling back to defend their 18-yard-box. Rangers have one of the country’s meanest defences and one of the main reasons is Green. But for his aberration against United States at the 2010 World Cup he would probably be heading for Brazil.
It was a trio of saves he made midway through the half which provided the platform for Zamora’s killer strike, Craig Bryson, Chris Martin and Simon Dawkins being denied in swift succession. As extra-time loomed nerves grew. Then Junior Hoilett battled past Jake Buxton on the touchline, cut the ball back, and Keogh’s first touch simply set up Zamora who struck like the England striker he once was.
Derby County (4-1-2-3): Grant; Wisdom, Keogh, Buxton, Forsyth; Thorne; Hughes (Bryson, 67), Hendrick, Ward (Bamford, 90), Martin, Russell (Dawkins, 67).
Queens Park Rangers (4-4-2): Green; Simpson, Onuoha, Dunne, Hill (Henry, 67); Hoilett, Barton, O’Neil, Kranjcar (Traoré, 34); Austin, Doyle (Zamora, 57).
Referee: Lee Mason
Man of the match: Green (QPR)
Match rating: 5/10
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