STEVE McClaren insists this is not the end but just the start of brighter times for Derby County following their shattering disappointment at Wembley.
Bobby Zamora’s 90th-minute winner floored Derby in the Championship play-off final and shattered hopes of Premier League football next season.
Rams players were reduced to tears at the end of the £120 million showdown, but McClaren believes his squad will bounce back stronger.
“It might feel like the end at the moment,” he said.
“We are disappointed, the fans will be as well, but we are growing and when you grow sometimes you take a hit, and this was a big hit.
“If this team sticks together we will get stronger.
“We know we have to stick together. We know we have to get over this, use the hurt and make sure next season we continue what we have been doing.
“We have got the nucleus of a great squad. The attitude of the players is great, their work rate is great, they are disciplined and they do their jobs.
“They always look to play football, and I have enjoyed watching them play this season.
“People can see what we are trying to do and our style of play, and we have to continue in that vein.”
Looking back on Saturday’s final, McClaren admits the team might not have been ready to go up.
“We have come a hell of a long way very quickly, maybe too quickly,” said the head coach.
“I said before the game ‘if we are ready, we would win the game’.
“We didn’t, for whatever reason, and so I have said to the players we are not ready yet. We have still got a bit of learning to do, a bit of gowing up to do.
“It was not our time yet, it was QPR’s.
“We have a fantastic, solid foundation.
“We are trying to build a football club and maybe we haven’t built it enough yet, but we’re well on the way.
“Every test I keep putting in front of the players, they keep passing. So, let’s go again.
“Getting to the play-off final was a bonus, a great opportunity which was not taken but the building and growing will continue.
“We have to come back stronger, and I know we will.”