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Derby and QPR eye top-flight return

Steve McClaren

Steve McClaren is determined to ensure Derby County's "innocent climb" takes them into the Premier League when they face QPR on Saturday.

McClaren cut a disconsolate figure the last time he was on the touchline at Wembley, but he will return in great spirits for the Championship play-off final this weekend.

The former Middlesbrough boss was labelled the 'Wally with the brolly' after he watched his England side lose 3-2 to Croatia in the rain to miss out on UEFA Euro 2008 qualification.

The 53-year-old then rebuilt his reputation by guiding FC Twente to the Eredivisie title and, despite disappointing spells at Wolfsburg, Nottingham Forest and then in a second stint at Twente, he has thrived on his return to Derby.

County sacked Nigel Clough last September and turned to their former assistant manager McClaren - who also played for the club - to replace him.

And that proved to be a masterstroke as McClaren, who was on the coaching staff at QPR when Derby approached him, guided the club from 14th to a third-placed finish.

After beating Brighton and Hove Albion in the play-off semi-finals, Derby are one step away from the Premier League and reported £120million for achieving that feat.

McClaren has described his side's "innocent climb" up the Championship table, but he knows they have their work cut out against a vastly more experienced and costly QPR side managed by the wily Harry Redknapp.

He said: "Just because we finished third and quite a few points in front of the other teams it doesn't mean we will go up, football isn't like that.

"In football you don't always get what you deserve. We're just pleased for the club - for the likes of (chief executive) Sam Rush, the supporters and the city as a whole.

"We've developed very quickly and got into the play-offs and finished third with a record points total and as top goalscorers.

"So in that respect I think the right two teams have made it through."

Redknapp was unable to keep an expensively assembled Rangers side in the top flight last season, but he now has the opportunity to put that disappointment behind him.

The former Tottenham boss, who appointed McClaren to his coaching staff last July, insists that his side are underdogs despite being title favourites at the start of the season.

He said: "It's a massive game. Obviously we want to get back in the Premier League and there's an awful lot at stake,

"It's an important game but it's a game of football and we want to make sure we win that game.

"Both teams have got pros and cons but I think they're the favourites and the bookmakers make them the favourites.

"They've been in good form and Steve McClaren has done a fantastic job with them, they're a young side and full of energy."

Derby's Player of the Year Craig Bryson is available to return in midfield after missing the second leg against Brighton with a back problem, so Will Hughes could drop back to the bench despite his stunning opening goal in that game.

Rangers defender Yun Suk-young has been cleared to play by the Korean Football Association, but Benoit Assou-Ekotto (knee) is expected to be passed fit, while Niko Kranjcar (hamstring) is also set to feature.


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