DERBY County first-team coach Paul Simpson believes the Wembley showdown with Queen’s Park Rangers could be a cracking play-off final, writes CHRIS WATSON.
The teams who finished third and fourth in the Championship this season meet on May 24.
Simpson and Rams’ head coach Steve McClaren were at Loftus Road on Monday night to watch Rangers book their final place with a 2-1 victory over Wigan Athletic.
Derby had secured their spot by completing a 6-2 aggregate victory over Brighton on Sunday.
“What a game to look forward to, what a fantastic occasion,” said Simpson when asked about the final.
“You don’t often get an opportunity to play at Wembley in your career, and in a game when there is so much at stake, when the prize is so big.
“It is a great day for everybody to look forward to and the players have thoroughly deserved this opportunity.”
Derby beat Rangers 1-0 at the iPro Stadium in February and lost 2-1 in West London back in November.
Who will be favourites at Wembley?
“It is really close to call,” said Simpson.
“The only difference is that at the start of the season everybody expected QPR to be there although we finished third, and quite comfortably.
“We don’t really care about who are favourites or underdogs.”
Simpson says it will be down to whoever handles the occasion.
“We are both good sides and it should be a really good game,” he said.
“When you look at QPR, you look at players like Joey Barton and Charlie Austin. They are big-game players.
“We have to make sure that we have more big-game players on the day.
“Last Sunday’s second leg against Brighton was a big game, and the players dealt with that really well.”
Simpson admits there was concern among the coaching staff following Derby’s 2-1 first-leg win at Brighton last Thursday night.
“There was because we did not deal with that night at Brighton so well,” Simpson explained.
“When we came in Friday morning it was really refreshing because we sat down with the players and had a chat about the game. They actually held their hands up and said they didn’t do as well as they should do, didn’t deal with it very well.
“We (the staff) didn’t have to say anything because the players recognised they didn’t play to the levels they are capable of.
“So I had a good feeling going into Sunday’s game although I didn’t think we would play as well as we did. I thought we were absolutely outstanding.
“When you have worked so hard to get into a play-off situation you cannot afford to let yourself down by not performing.
“The pleasing thing about Sunday is that the players went out and showed what they are really all about, they show the real Derby County.
“They were on the front foot and they stopped Brighton playing which was the opposite to what we did down at Brighton.”
Derby’s meeting with QPR means McClaren will face the club at which he started the season as part of Harry Redknapp’s coaching staff.
“You couldn’t write the script better could you than for us to play Queen’s Park Rangers in the final?,” said McClaren.
“We’re looking forward to it and I think over the two legs, QPR deserved to beat Wigan and make the final.
“As we have said before, they’ve got good, experienced players, who know how to win.
“All of their players know Wembley and know big games. Ultimately that’s why they’ve got through and it should be a cracking final.
“I hope we handle the occasion well.
“If we do that, we’ll give them a very good game.”