WEMBLEY STADIUM, LONDON — Queens Park Rangers defeated Derby County 1-0 in the Championship play-off final at Wembley on Saturday, putting in a performance that epitomises the old adage "smash-and-grab victory."
The R's spent 88 minutes hemmed into their own third, defending for their lives as wave after wave of Derby attacks smashed against them, then cut their opponents open with a swift counter to allow Bobby Zamora to stab home.
A return to the Premier League, at the first time of asking, for Harry Redknapp and his charges.
The Rams dominated the game from start to finish, barring a nervous 10-minute spell, playing good possession football and working angles for passes and through balls. The wingers interchanged, George Thorne put on a masterclass in defensive midfield, and the R's dropped deeper and deeper.
Derby have averaged 53% possession in the Championship this season, the highest amount in the division. pic.twitter.com/9zNGXQE9hj— Squawka Football (@Squawka) May 24, 2014
No Championship team averaged more possession per game (53 percent) this season than Derby. After 20 minutes, they'd clocked up 71 percent and continued in this fashion.
Gary O'Neil's 60th-minute red card was indicative of the pressure QPR were under; the 31-year-old had no choice but to scythe Johnny Russell down through on goal, preserving his team's clean sheet at the expense of his own presence on the field.
It was Derby's first clear-cut chance despite their brightness on the ball, and QPR would go on to limit them to just one more.
Redknapp: "It was a cynical challenge [O'Neil]. He wasn't the last man but I can't really argue with the decision." #QPR— Sam Tighe (@stighefootball) May 24, 2014
O'Neil's surrender, for the sake of team, gave the Hoops renewed impetus and belief. Derby pushed and pushed, committed more and more men, but QPR would not yield.
Richard Dunne, the sponsor's Man of the Match, was titanic in his own box while Robert Green showed no hesitation in claiming cross after cross after cross.
It was experience that won the day, not youth, enthusiasm and exuberance. Hardly the fairy-tale ending the neutrals were pulling for, but it was Steve McClaren who put it most aptly in his post-match press conference.
"Football is a cruel game," he told reporters. "One lapse in the end, and you lose a game like this. Credit to QPR with 10 men—they've got the ideal team make-up and experience to deal with that situation."
A cliche? Certainly, but no words ring truer on the balance of play.
"We just couldn't get past Green, Dunne," he continued. "We weren't ready, we have learning to do, growing up to do."
Derby play with a swagger. No nerves, no bashfulness; just attacking, attractive football. QPR were the polar opposite, combining steely determination and grit with desperation at times, yet the latter will find themselves playing Premier League football next season.
"Dunne, [Nedum] Onuoha and Green defended for their lives," admitted Redknapp after the game. "We were under the cosh; I was looking to get to extra time and hoping to get to penalties."
Queens Park Rangers snatched a victory from the jaws of death at Wembley on Saturday. History won't remember the details, only the score.