BOBBY Zamora struck a dramatic last-minute winner to sink Derby and fire QPR back into the Premier League.
Scorers: Queens Park Rangers; Zamora 90
The 33-year-old, on as a substitute in what will probably be his last match as a QPR player, waved goodbye with a goal worth an estimated £120 million to the club, who sealed a 1-0 win over the Rams at Wembley.
Rangers looked down and out after Gary O’Neil was sent off with half an hour still to play and with Derby well on top. But Zamora, who hit a play-off winner for West Ham in 2005, repeated the trick as Rangers bounced back into the top flight at the first attempt.
It meant a sad return to Wembley for Rams boss Steve McClaren, back at the scene of his lowest moment in football when he cowered under an umbrella as his England side crumbled against Croatia in 2007 to miss out on qualification for the following year’s European Championship.
McClaren, who began the season on QPR’s coaching staff, must have had a wry smile on his face when, ten minutes before kick-off, the heavens opened. All the pressure was on Rangers, £177m in debt and with a wage bill bigger than Atletico Madrid’s, and it showed. Derby bossed the first half and Craig Forsyth headed a deep cross from Jamie Ward narrowly wide, while Will Hughes blazed over from the edge of the area.
Niko Kranjcar suffered a hamstring injury and the man who helped hasten McClaren’s England exit with his goal for Croatia that infamous night seven years ago limped off to be replaced by Armond Traore.
QPR keeper Rob Green dealt with Johnny Russell’s deflected effort and also got down well to tip Ward’s inswinging free-kick, which evaded everyone in the six-yard box, past the post.
Rangers boss Harry Redknapp was pinning his side’s promotion hopes on their top scorer Charlie Austin, and the chance the former Burnley striker had been looking for arrived shortly before the hour mark.
Kevin Doyle sent Traore down the left flank and his cut back found Austin where he has been lurking most of the season, in front of goal ten yards out.
But this time the 20-goal frontman’s finish let him down as he sidefooted the ball wide of Lee Grant’s goal and held his head in his hands with disbelief.
It looked like being a defining moment for QPR, and worse was to follow three minutes later when Russell’s attempt to burst through on goal was curtailed by a deliberate foul from O’Neil.
O’Neil argued that there were other defenders in the vicinity but referee Mason, probably wisely, decided veterans Dunne and Clint Hill were not going to catch Russell and produced a straight red card.
Derby sensed their chance and poured forward, forcing Green into point-blank saves from Craig Bryson, Chris Martin and Simon Dawkins in a frantic tenminute spell.
But as the clock ticked down Derby skipper Richard Keogh mis-controlled fatally in the area and Zamora, for the second time in his career, blasted in the most valuable goal in football.
Redknapp admitted his side were “hanging on for their lives” before Zamora scored the goal which took them back to the Barclays Premier League in injury time.
“It was a fantastic finish,” Redknapp said of Zamora’s strike. “We were maybe trying to take the game to penalties with a draw and were hanging on for our lives.
“It was a fantastic goal to win the game and I couldn’t be more pleased.
“I would be a liar if I said I thought I would see us scoring. They had 11 men, were probing us and we were hanging on.
“That was a one off where you stand on the touchline, hanging on for grim death and get a goal like that.”