HEAD coach Steve McClaren spoke of his immense pride in his Derby County players after they suffered late heartbreak in the Championship play-off final.
Derby dominated Queen’s Park Rangers for long spells in Satuday’s clash at Wembley only to be sunk 1-0 by substitute Bobby Zamora’s last-gasp winner.
Rangers had been reduced to 10 men on the hour when midfielder Gary O’Neil was sent off for denying Rams forward Johnny Russell a goal-scoring opportunity.
Victory secured Rangers an immediate return to the Premier League following relegation last season and left Derby facing another season in the Championship.
But McClaren fought back the disappointment to heap praise on his team.
“We talk about concentrating on performance and sticking to the style in which we have been playing, and the style of football that got us to Wembley – and the players did that to a tee. I was so proud of them,” he said.
“They played with great courage, great courage for such a young team.
“We were dominating the game, but football can be a cruel game.
“In the end one lapse and you lose, and that is what happened.
“Credit to QPR. With 10 men they have got the players and the experience to deal with the situation.
“We could not get past Robert Green, Richard Dunne, Nedum Onouha, Clint Hill and Danny Simpson, but I was proud of the players the way they kept playing and probing.”
Derby finished the season third with a club record 85 points and as top scorers in the Championship before sweeping aside Brighton to reach the play-off final.
“I am so proud of the players what they have acheived in a short space of time,” said McClaren.
“They’ve been a pleasure to work with for seven months and their maturity has impressed me.
“We have had an innocent climb this season and we have shown humility by applauding the opponent at the end and the fans.
“QPR were also very humble in victory as well, so it was a great advert for foootball.
“That is what we want to do, we want to do things the right way.
“We play the right way, and win or lose we also react the right way.”
McClaren felt it would be only a matter of time before his side made the breakthrough after O’Neil’s dismissal but it was not to be.
“We had possession and chances, but it didn’t quite drop for us,” he said.
“We had enough of the ball, but Queen’s Park Rangers defended very well. “We felt that a goal was coming for us but ultimately time ran out for us.
“I am sure on reflection everyone will reflect on a great season, but the ending wasn’t how we wanted it to be.”