Derby scoop £60million prize
Derby County 1-0 West Bromwich AlbionIt used to be 39 steps at Wembley. Now there are 112 that Matt Oakley had to climb to lift the Championship play-off trophy. And yet the strides Derby County have taken are far, far greater than that. Finishing in 20th place 12 months ago and burdened by huge debts, they are now a Premiership club. It is a remarkably rapid journey, albeit via the scenic route of the play-offs.
And though it was achieved at Wembley and benefits Derby, this was a promotion made in Glasgow.
In part, because the decisive goal came from Stephen Pearson, plucked from Celtic in January. But, more significantly, because Billy Davies will become the second son of Govan managing a top-flight club next season. The other, Sir Alex Ferguson, is rather better known but even he may struggle to effect a transformation such as Derby's.
In some senses it was apt that it came in a game where, for the most part, West Bromwich Albion were in the ascendancy. Derby are not the Championship's most talented team - indeed, Albion probably are - but their teamwork, from a side that was still being forged in the final weeks of the season, is exemplary. An assortment of strangers a year ago, when only Darren Moore, Seth Johnson and Paul Peschisolido of the starting line-up were even at Pride Park, they have now won a prize that is both huge and miniature. The silverware Oakley lifted is oddly small but, indirectly, worth £60 million (not a bad return for Pearson's £750,000 transfer fee).
Their reward, enough to purchase two Andriy Shevchenkos, should finance further rebuilding. Because of the qulaity of some of the players involved, it is likely. Given Davies' restlessness, it is inevitable. For instance, Peschisolido, a 36-year-old with three league starts all campaign, began the match.
Yet the decisive contribution came from a substitute. Giles Barnes, but for the knee injury that disrupted the end of his campaign, would have been an automatic choice. Instead he emerged from the bench with half an hour remaining to run at a porous Albion defence. Immediately after his introduction, Oakley drew the best save of the match from Dean Kiely and then Barnes advanced down the right flank to slide in a low cross that Pearson turned in.
'I wanted to get Barnesy's pace on,' Davies explained. 'He's a threat. He's 90 percent fit. He's got that pace and ability to get in behind people.
'It's an unbelievable fairytale where you consider where we started. It won't sink for two or three days, the magnitude of the success story.'
Perhaps, but this might be one fairytale with an unhappy ending, despite promotion. There have long been rumours of disharmony behind the scenes at Derby. Now Davies said that, because of factionalism at the club, it is far from certain he will remain at Pride Park.
'I don't think there's anything guaranteed 100 percent,' he said. 'I'm not saying I don't want to be manager of Derby County. I am now prepared to sit down and have a discussion with people at the club but I don't want to go into specifics.
'You normally take three or four years to build a team. At Derby County, given the factions, if you don't do it in 10 or 11 months you get hyper-criticised which is amazing to me. I thank everyone at the club who has supported us and I thank everyone around the club who has constantly criticised the players and has put the boot in for the inspiration. [They said Steve] Howard was a waste of money, Oakley was a waste of money...'
Neither were and Davies stands vindicated. Tyrone Mears, one of his more contentious signings, justified his recruitment on loan from West Ham with two wonderful tackles that, had his timing been awry, would have resulted in penalties for fouls on Jason Koumas and Darren Carter.
Instead, Albion's fervent appeals were rejected. Kevin Phillips came close, too, clipping the bar in a first half they dominated, with Diomansy Kamara almost scoring in the first 40 seconds.
'We more than matched them in every aspect of the game,' rued manager Tony Mowbray but, behind the scenes, West Bromwich Albion may be no happier than Derby. An exodus is expected in the summer, and Mowbray hinted at the reasons why.
'Football teams are about balance and camaraderie. Premiership experience doesn't count for anything. Just because you have got names on a paper doesn't count for anything.
'Every manager would like to bring his own players in, footballers that you like to play a certain way.' Davies has done that at Derby, remodelling a team in his own image. But that, it appears, might not be enough to ensure he stays to supervise their progress in the Premiership.
MAN OF THE MATCH: Matt Oakley - An outstanding signing by Davies, who made the midfielder captain before he had made his Derby debut. Quietly authoritative, his passing was significant again in the midfield. Barnes, for his half-hour cameo, and Mears, for his two tackles, also merit a mention.
DERBY VERDICT: Joy will be tempered by the thought that Davies might leave, and, while he can sound paranoid, the powerbrokers at Derby should give him their unswerving backing. On the field, pace at either end is essential if they are to survive, and more quality will be required.
WEST BROM VERDICT: The most gifted team in the division will be disbanded. The Championship's cavaliers have, with Mowbray almost a moral crusader, played some exhilarating football but inconsistency may reflect dissidence in the camp. Expect bids for Curtis Davies, Diomansy Kamara, Zoltan Gera and Koumas, who was outstanding in the first half.
WEMBLEY VERDICT: It's not bad. Seriously, there is much to be impressed by, and it is easy for first-time visitors to be awed. Nonetheless and despite a rather comfy chair in the press box, this observer still has qualms; firstly, the exorbitant cost and secondly, the sense that there are enough high quality stadia around the country to cater for England games.
EXIT POLL: Graham Poll went off into retirement in typically quiet fashion with eight yellow cards in a valedictory display of dramatic refereeing. But he did get the big decisions right, rejecting two Albion penalty appeals.