QPR 1 Derby County 0
Bobby Zamora’s injury-time goal gave 10-man QPR a dramatic triumph in the play-off final at Wembley, taking them back to the Premier League.
Rangers had Gary O’Neil sent off with 30 minutes remaining and looked to be struggling to force extra time against a Derby side who were dominating possession and territory.
But Zamora’s beautifully curled effort after great work by Junior Hoilett earned victory.
The game was far from a classic and neither side created much in a cagey first half which lacked quality and incident.
Joey Barton twice shot well off target for the R’s, but their main threat came from the direct running and pace of Hoilett.
The Rams went closest to scoring when Jamie Ward’s inswinging free-kick into the box forced a watchful save from Rob Green.
Michael Forsyth also sent a header over the bar from a tight angle while a clumsy challenge by Richard Dunne led to strong but unsuccessful penalty appeals as Will Hughes went down easily in the box.
But the complexion of the match turned on the hour following O’Neil’s cynical professional foul on Johnny Russell after Rangers gave the ball away cheaply in their own half.
O’Neil’s exit prompted boss Harry Redknapp to make his third substitution, bringing on Karl Henry as he seemingly looked for extra time and penalties.
Green became increasingly involved and made decent saves to deny substitutes Craig Bryson and Simon Dawkins.
Chris Martin also hit the outside of the post as Derby really began to get on top.
Rangers responded and Barton smashed a late effort wide of the right-hand upright.
And with extra time seeming inevitable, Zamora’s dramatic intervention after a mistake by Richard Keogh sent the QPR fans into raptures.
Zamora’s stunning strike was hardly in keeping with an underwhelming match.
Rangers fans won’t care for one minute.
Wembley finals – particularly a first since 1986 – are all about winning. And the manner of the win, and the fact it was achieved with their only shot on target, hardly matters.
It was tight, nervy and forgettable for nearly 60 minutes.
Rangers barely threatened in a dismal first 45 minutes, with only Hoilett’s pace looking likely to provide a goal. Derby were only marginally more dangerous.
But after O’Neill was rightly sent off, the Rams were well on top.
Redknapp gambled. Having already replaced the injured Niko Kranjcar and also brought on Zamora, he was relying on his side’s experience and defensive nous.
And they responded. Dunne won countless headers and made numerous blocks, Green made his saves and looked commanding and Barton began to lead.
But Ravel Morrison remained on the bench and the changes and tactics clearly had penalties in mind with the defensive qualities of Karl Henry coming on to shore things up.
Nearly 25 minutes of incessant pressure, albeit with few clear chances, came and went.
The jubilation after Zamora’s goal initially bordered on disbelief before it seemed to dawn that it was a “Golden Goal” in all but name.
It means an instant return to the top flight after a forgettable, yet never-to-be-forgotten game.
QPR (4-4-1-1): Green; Simpson, Onuoha, Dunne, Hill (Henry 67); Doyle (Zamora 57); Barton, O’Neil, Hoilett; Kranjcar (Traore 33); Austin.
Subs not used: Murphy, Hughes, Suk-young, Henry, Morrison.