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QPR secures immediate return to Premier League by beating Derby 1-0

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LONDON - Queens Park Rangers secured an immediate return to the Premier League — and a promotion windfall of at least 80 million pounds (C$146 million) — by beating Derby 1-0 in the League Championship playoff final on Saturday thanks to a last-minute goal by Bobby Zamora.

QPR played the final 31 minutes with 10 men following Gary O'Neil's straight red card for a cynical last-man foul but in a rare foray forward, Harry Redknapp's team grabbed the winner when Zamora pounced on a poor defensive clearance.

The late twist came when Derby defender Richard Keogh miscued a clearance of a cross from Brampton, Ont.'s Junior Hoilett and Zamora applied a fine left-footed finish. Keogh was in tears after the final whistle.

It was QPR's only shot on target in the entire match at Wembley Stadium — and Zamora's second winning goal in a playoff final, replicating his exploits for West Ham against Preston in 2005.

"I would be a liar if I said I thought I would see us scoring," Redknapp said. "They had 11 men, were probing us and we were hanging on.

"That was a one-off, where you stand on the touchline, hang on for grim death and get a goal like that."

The match is the most lucrative in world football due to the money clubs earn from being in the Premier League because of the division's huge domestic and global broadcasting deals.

QPR, which is promoted along with Leicester and Burnley, had finished fourth in the regular season — a place below Derby — in its first year back in the second tier.

It proved to be another bad day at Wembley for Derby manager Steve McClaren, whose last match as a coach at the national stadium was with England in the team's 3-2 loss to Croatia in November 2007. That ensured England missed out on qualification for the 2008 European Championships and he was fired the next day.

"It was the cruellest game ever," McClaren said. "I've lost some games in my career but that is the cruellest. We didn't deserve that, but you don't often get what you deserve."

Derby was looking to get back in the Premier League after a six-year absence and piled on the pressure in the final half-hour after O'Neil departed for clipping the heels of Johnny Russell as the midfielder ran through on goal.

QPR defended stoically, with centre back Richard Dunne in commanding form and former England goalkeeper Rob Green saving a slew of shots, and the match appeared to be heading for extra time before Zamora's goal.

QPR is owned by Tony Fernandes, a Malaysian entrepreneur who is the chief executive of AirAsia and the team principal of Caterham in Formula One. He has invested heavily in the London team since becoming its majority shareholder in 2011, with QPR posting debts of 65.4 million pounds for the financial year in March.

Canadian W. Brett Wilson owns about 25 per cent of Derby County.

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