Queens Park Rangers booked their passage to the Premier League with a last-minute 1-0 win over Derby County in the Championship play-off final.
The Rams looked strong favourites when QPR were reduced to 10 men just past the hour, but Bobby Zamora popped up with a late goal to clinch victory at Wembley. With that comes a place in the top flight.
B/R's Anthony Lopopolo gave his thoughts on the promotion for QPR, who were relegated from the Premier League just last season:
QPR back in the Premier League. With all that money spent, at least they made some back. But football is cruel.— Anthony Lopopolo (@sportscaddy) May 24, 2014
Given what was at stake—the game had been billed the £134 million match—it was an understandably cagey opening.
It was QPR who had the first sight of goal, with Charlie Austin shooting over the bar from long range.
Derby took some time to find a foothold in the game, but they did have penalty appeals on 28 minutes when Will Hughes tumbled in the box following a challenge from Richard Dunne. Referee Lee Mason was well placed to turn down the appeals, and replays suggested the official got the decision correct.
But Derby eventually settled in, coming within a whisker of taking the lead on 41 minutes. A free-kick from Jamie Ward went through a scrum of players in the box, and Robert Green had to react quickly to push the ball around the post.
It took QPR the best part of an hour to fashion a chance inside the area. When it arrived, it did so at the feet of a player Rangers fans would have wanted it to.
A pass from Armand Traore was cut back to Austin, but he appeared to snatch at the chance and the ball went well wide.
Moments after Austin’s chance went begging, QPR were reduced to 10 men. Derby won possession 40 yards from goal, and Johnny Russell was set free. He was beyond the last man when Gary O’Neil cynically scythed the Derby forward down just as he was about to pull the trigger.
Referee Mason consulted with his assistant before brandishing a straight red card, which was fully merited.
The balance of power shifted totally to Derby, who began to dominate possession. Green is no longer in England contention, but he is still a classy keeper and he made a string of vital saves to keep his side on level terms.
With the clock ticking down, Junior Hoilett showed great tenacity to win possession deep in the Derby area. He pulled the ball back, and it found Zamora following a defensive blunder from Richard Keogh.
Zamora had plenty to do, but he fired home a superb finish into the far corner to spark wild QPR celebrations.
It proved to be Zamora's second play-off final winner, as he helped West Ham back into the Premier League in 2005.
Speaking to Sky Sports immediately after the game, Zamora said:
It is a massive game, and I am so pleased for the lads.
Everyone has dug in in the last couple of months. There was great togetherness, we have shown that this season and in the play-offs as well, never say die and fight to the end.
The R's can now plan for life in the Premier League, although there is talk of the club preparing to fight a court case over financial issues, per Sami Mokbel of the Daily Mail.
The talk of financial penalties and transfer embargoes are likely to be on the back burner for the moment, as manager Harry Redknapp can celebrate bouncing back to the top flight at the first time of asking.