Bobby Zamora scored his side’s first shot on target in the 90th minute as Queens Park Rangers won promotion back to the Premier League with a 1-0 victory over Derby County at Wembley.
The 33-year-old, on as a substitute in what will probably be his last match as a Rangers player, waved goodbye with a goal worth an estimated £120 million to the club.
Rangers looked down and out after Gary O’Neil was sent off with half an hour still to play and with Derby well on top.
But Zamora, who hit a play-off winner for West Ham over Preston in 2005, repeated the trick as Harry Redknapp’s side bounced back into the top flight at the first attempt.
It meant a sad return to Wembley for Derby boss Steve McClaren, back for the first time at the scene of his lowest moment in football when he cowered under an umbrella as his England side crumbled against Croatia in 2007 to miss out on qualification for the following year’s European Championship.
McClaren, who began the season on QPR’s coaching staff, must have had a wry smile on his face when, 10 minutes before kick-off, the heavens opened.
But all the pressure was on the west Londoners, £177 million in debt and with a wage bill bigger than Champions League finalists Atletico Madrid’s, and it showed.
Derby bossed the first half and Craig Forsyth headed a deep cross from Jamie Ward narrowly wide, while Will Hughes blazed over from the edge of the area.
Rangers’ hearts were in the mouths in the 27th minute when Hughes turned inside Richard Dunne in the area and promptly fell to the ground, but referee Lee Mason waved away the appeals for a penalty.
Niko Kranjcar suffered a hamstring injury and the man who helped hasten McClaren’s England exit with his goal for Croatia that infamous night seven years ago limped off to be replaced by Armond Traore.
Rangers keeper Rob Green dealt with Johnny Russell’s deflected effort and also got down well to tip Ward’s inswinging free-kick, which evaded everyone in the six-yard box, past the post.
Redknapp was pinning his side’s promotion hopes on their top scorer Charlie Austin, and the chance the former Burnley striker had been looking for arrived shortly before the hour mark. Kevin Doyle sent Traore down the left flank and his cut back found Austin where he has been lurking most of the season, in front of goal 10 yards out.
But this time the 20-goal frontman’s finish let him down as he sidefooted the ball wide of Lee Grant’s goal and held his head in his hands with disbelief.
It looked like being a defining moment for Rangers, and worse was to follow three minutes later when Russell’s attempt to burst through on goal was curtailed by a deliberate foul from O’Neil. O’Neil argued that there were other defenders in the vicinity but referee Mason, probably wisely, decided veterans Dunne and Clint Hill were not going to catch Russell and produced a straight red card.
Derby sense their chance and poured forward, forcing Green into point-blank saves from Craig Bryson, Chris Martin and Simon Dawkins in a frantic 10-minute spell.
But as the clock ticked down Derby skipper Richard Keogh mis-controlled fatally in the area and Zamora, for the second time in his career, blasted in the most valuable goal in football.