Queens Park Rangers vs. Derby County: 6 Things We Learned from Play-off Final
Queens Park Rangers will be back in the Premier League for 2014/15 after beating Derby County 1-0 in the Championship play-off final at Wembley on Saturday.
The victory was all the more surprising given Rangers played most of the second half with 10 men, and the Rams were by far the better side for the encounter—but a 90th-minute winner from Bobby Zamora saw QPR take their chance, where Derby had failed to do so.
Here are six things we learned from the play-off final, starting with something on the losing side.
Hughes and Thorne Are Premier League Players
Derby might not have managed to cross the line and make their way into the top flight, but they were by far the better team, largely on account of their excellent midfield.
While QPR struggled to get any sort of momentum going in their play, Derby's three-man midfield of Jeff Hendrick, George Thorne and Will Hughes passed and moved around their more experienced rivals at will, with the latter two especially impressive on the ball.
Great passing and technique was enhanced with ferocity off the ball, with Thorne making more than one excellent challenge and interception and Hughes working hard in attack. Both players are completely capable of stepping up to the Premier League, with Hughes, aged 19, likely to be a transfer target for top-flight clubs in summer and Thorne, 21, already owned by Premier League club West Brom.
Big Wages Don't Guarantee Good Football
QPR have a wage bill that is bigger than their entire annual income.
In fact, their wage bill stood at £78 million, as per The Guardian, bigger than that of La Liga winners and Champions League finalists Atletico Madrid.
The crazy overspending on sub-standard players under Mark Hughes and Harry Redknapp left the club relegated, deep in debt and with a bloated squad of second-rate players on top-flight wages. As has been shown throughout this season and certainly in the final, QPR have an experienced squad who are tough to beat, but they don't play great football.
They were passed off the Wembley park by Derby and resorted to deep defensive lines and drilling long passes to their target men to relieve pressure. Big-time wages, small-time football.
Lee Mason CAN Get the Big Calls Right! (...Sometimes)
Some referees get unnecessarily bad press, it's true. They have a tough job in an increasingly high-pressure industry. Some, however, are consistently awful, and Lee Mason has proven himself one of them over an extended period of time.
He fails to spot clear incidents, opts out of making big calls and oversteps the mark where discipline is handed out—but he got one of the big, big calls at Wembley absolutely spot-on.
Johnny Russell's burst away from the QPR defence on the hour mark was as big an opening as Derby had carved for themselves, but before he could get a clear shot away, he was cynically fouled by Gary O'Neil on the edge of the box. Mason took his time and spoke with his assistant before giving a straight red card—completely the correct decision, and what could have been a big one.
It's just a shame he blotted his copy book by missing a pretty blatant penalty for Derby in the first half, about 15 metres from where he was stood.
Does Experience Tell? Perhaps So
QPR's side is a collection of former Premier League players in the twilight of their careers.
The ages of their starting XI in the play-off final read: 34, 27, 34, 35, 27, 31, 31, 29, 23, 30, 24.
Such extraordinary amounts of experience, especially throughout the spine of the side, doubtlessly helped the team stay composed and organised when they came under intense pressure in the second half, down to 10 men and facing relentless waves of Derby County attacks.
Richard Dunne, 34, was a rock at the back, heading out everything that came his way and constantly talking to his players throughout. His physique could perhaps most kindly be described as "not Premier League-esque," but his mentality and resilience proved invaluable.
As did 33-year-old forward Bobby Zamora's at the other end, when he slotted home the 90th-minute winner.
QPR Can Afford That Potential Fine Quite Easily, All of a Sudden
QPR's massive wage bill left them with a £65-million loss during 2012/13, something not expected to have decreased this season. A similar posting for the present season will, under Football League Financial Fair Play rules, mean they face a fine of around £54 million.
BBC Sport explains how that figure could change, depending on QPR's posted losses.
There is every chance they will fight the fine, but as this season's broadcasting and prize money accumulation for Premier League clubs shows, QPR will have no trouble making back even that hefty sum.
Twentieth-place Cardiff City raked in £62 million, while at the other end of the scale, runners-up Liverpool brought in £97.5 million.
Harry Redknapp Has a Busy Summer Ahead to Get His Side Premier League-Ready
Redknapp has set his store this season by experience, players he knows and trusts, players with a point to prove or cloggers and journeymen who simply get a job done.
In an ever more competitive Premier League and presumably backed by another spending spree in the transfer market, he's going to have to do far better to not suffer another relegation with Queens Park Rangers.
Redknapp took over when QPR were five points adrift of safety in November 2012 with five full months and one transfer window to turn them around. He failed to do so, getting relegated bottom of the league by three points and a massive 14 points from the 17th-place side—but he has done just enough this term to get his side back up on the first attempt.
Now comes a summer of opportunity for Rangers, but they have to employ so much more wisdom and sense this time around than they did two summers ago.
The squad is miles away from Premier League level, despite their plethora of former top-flight players, and a busy summer must be taken to trim, re-shape and ready the side for survival.