Derby County powered their way into the Championship play-off final with a 6-2 aggregate win over Brighton and Hove Albion.
Coming into the game protecting a 2-1 lead from the first leg, Derby were full of verve throughout and proved much too good for the Seagulls.
Will Hughes’ sublime finish on 34 minutes eased the tension among the Derby fans, and second-half goals from Chris Martin, George Thorne and Jeff Hendrick highlighted the gulf in class between the two teams as the hosts took a 4-1 victory.
Derby fans will now be able to pencil May 24 into their diaries and will await the outcome of the second semi-final between Queens Park Rangers and Wigan Athletic with relish.
The Rams were sharp from the off, as Andre Wisdom cut in from the flank and stung the palms of Tomasz Kuszczak.
Derby’s play was a joy to watch at times, with fine interplay setting Craig Forsyth free, but he fired a shot into the side netting.
Jake Buxton is a towering presence at set pieces for Derby, and he rose high to meet a ball into the box but jumped too early and could not direct his effort on target.
Just when Derby fans were starting to get a shade anxious, Hughes settled the nerves. He darted free of his marker, met a cross and flicked an audacious backheel beyond Kuszczak.
This goal from Will Hughes is absolutely stunning. Would be great to see him in the Premier League https://t.co/tMGuuLJrd2— Avalon (@AvalonAFC) May 11, 2014
Martin has been a big presence in front of goal for Derby this term, and he showed great desire to meet a ball into the box and double the lead.
The third came from the boot of Thorne on 74 minutes, as he slammed a low shot into the bottom corner from 20 yards.
Hendrick grabbed a fourth, while Kazenga LuaLua's 90th-minute goal proved nothing more than a consolation for Brighton.
Derby are now one game away from joining the Premier League. Reaching the top flight is tough. Staying there is equally as hard. But Derby manager Steve McClaren has his side playing the brand of football that will not be out of place in the Premier League.
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