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By Burton Mail  |  Posted: May 26, 2014

  • DEIH20140524A-235_C.JPG Picture: Ian Hodgkinson Derby County V QPR in in the championship play-off at Wembley Pictured Jamie Ward

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A RESULT, a disappointment as bitter and brutal as the one Derby County suffered at Wembley, can colour so much when it comes to football.

But new colours have already started to emerge from the gloom.

Receiving and reading messages on social media from fans and players alike suggest green shoots of renewed determination are already sprouting.

Their Premier League dream may have been snatched away in a highway robbery Dick Turpin would have been proud of, but the future still looks brighter for the Rams than it has done for some seasons.

Queen’s Park Rangers booked a return to the top-flight courtesy of Bobby Zamora’s last-minute goal to leave Derby contemplating another gruelling 46-match marathon in the Championship.

But a defiant Steve McClaren is spot on in saying this should be viewed as just the start and not the end of the Rams’ journey.

One narrow defeat, one injustice, must not be allowed to overshadow what has been an excellent season full of enjoyable football. Bright, adventurous, attacking play has delivered wins, goals and points.

Their football has been the talk of the Championship, their energy and enthusiasm the envy of many.

They may have lost on Saturday, but they have gained so much in the past 10 months for which many people deserve credit, from McClaren all the way back to former manager Nigel Clough.

As for the players?

They have been magnificent.

What hurt more than the 1-0 defeat was seeing so many of them sink to their knees at the final whistle, seeing how distraught they were and seeing the tears flow.

They deserved so much more on the day.

Sadly, you do not always get what you deserve.

Much of the talk pre-match was of Premier League riches, of this being the most expensive one-off fixture in global sport and even mention of players’ bonuses. All rather crude ahead of what had the making of a fascinating tussle.

Would Rangers’ experience and big-game know-how win the day or would Derby’s youthfulness and running power have the final say?

It was a fixture written in the stars.

McClaren started the season at QPR as part of Harry Redknapp’s coaching staff and probably played a key role in tightening the Hoops.

They kept seven clean sheets in nine league games from the start of the season while McClaren was at the club.

Against the odds, and with 10 men for the final half an hour following Gary O’Neil’s red card, Rangers kept another on Saturday.

Derby edged what in truth was a nervy first half short on quality, understandably given the stakes.

George Thorne was Rams’ best player on the day, not for the first time in recent weeks, but Rangers stitched up the pockets of space McClaren’s men like to play in.

They earmarked Chris Martin as the major threat, not surprisingly given the striker has been pivotal to Derby’s progress this season. Martin did not see enough of the ball in the opening 45 minutes nor did the Rams get enough runners in and around him.

Sixteen-goal Craig Bryson is so good at this.

Seeing him on the bench and not starting was a shock although the performance by the team in sweeping aside Brighton in the previous game had been “near perfect”, according to McClaren. Bryson missed the Brighton fixture with a slight back problem.

What was the biggest mass exodus of fans for a Derby away game, more than 38,000, applauded in the 31st minute for Radio Derby presenter Colin Bloomfield, who is battling cancer. It was a wonderful moment but with half an hour gone there was nothing to choose between the two sides.

Rangers’ keeper Rob Green produced the first save of note five minutes before the break to keep out Jamie Ward’s free kick. Green became a much busier figure second half when Derby turned the screw.

Charlie Austin wasted a chance he normally takes as Rangers continued to wait for their first effort on target and it looked to be a costly moment when they were reduced to 10 men three minutes later.

Johnny Russell burst through only to be scythed down cynically by O’Neil. Referee Lee Mason took his time, as more officials should, and consulted his assistant before dismissing the midfielder.

Was O’Neil the last man? Questionable, but the deliberate nature of the foul deserved a red. It is called “taking one for the team”.

Rangers circled the wagons and the pattern for the final half an hour was woven.

Derby withdrew Russell and Hughes. Were they tiring? Russell still looked sprightly while Hughes is a player with the vision and weight of pass capable of finding a chink in stubborn resistence.

Hughes has played better but when it is 11 v 10, I would always leave him on.

Penned in, Rangers dug in.

They had to because they struggled to find a way out of their own half as Derby’s pressure mounted.

Green made a trio of saves to deny Bryson, Martin and Simon Dawkins. They were saves you would expect a keeper of his experience to make and for all Derby’s dominance, the cuting edge that made them top scorers this season was missing.

They failed to fashion what could be termed a clear-cut chance and have played with greater fluency this season.

They continued to knock at Rangers’ door as Redknapp stood in his technical area hoping for extra-time and then penalties because his team was on the rack.

The situation was perfect for a defender in Richard Dunne’s mould.

He was colossal at the heart of Rangers’ defence and although it is tough for Derby’s fans to take, Dunne and Co toughed it out with admirable desire.

Their reward was a last-gasp winner that was as surprising as it was stunning.

Play ambled down Rangers’ right with no obvious sign of a threat when suddenly Junior Hoilet escaped the attention of Jake Buxton. The winger’s weak attempt at a centre went straight to Richard Keogh but his scuffed clearance fell to Zamora.

Yes, the chance was gifted to him on a plate but the substitute’s finish was clinical. The ball fizzed past Lee Grant, who had been a spectator virtually all game.

Keogh has been extremely consistent this season. A wholehearted competitor who wears his heart on his Derby shirt sleeve. He certainly did not deserve the day to end in such a way.

McClaren has often spoke about “finding a way to win matches”.

Grinding out a result was always the most likely way experienced Rangers would prevail in this fixture, although even Redknapp would struggle to explain how it came to pass.

For Derby, they have to look ahead. Little is gained by looking back.

Great satisfaction and pride can be taken in the way they climbed from 14th to third in the Championship, and then moved into the play-off final where they started with a team than cost only £2.2 million and included three free transfers, two loan signings and two academy products.

Great work, but the work will have to start all over again in August.

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