North East interest in the richest showdown in football

Queens Park Rangers or Derby County are a match away from a place in the Premier League in what is billed as football's richest game

Getty Images Danny Simpson of QPR
QPR’s Danny Simpson is aiming to secure a return to the Premier League in today’s Championship Play-Off final against Derby

Harry Redknapp is just 90 minutes from bringing his transfer roadshow back to the Premier League.

For North East football fans who have been given a merciful break from Redknapp’s meddling for a year, his absence has been appreciated.

The man who caused mischief by agitating when Andy Carroll, Kenwyne Jones and Loic Remy were available might be a pretty good manager, but his antics have hardly endeared him to Sunderland and Newcastle supporters over the years.

This afternoon, Redknapp gets a crack at the richest game in world football at Wembley. A £100m prize is on offer if he leads his team back into the promised land and with QPR’s wage bill so lopsided, it might mean even more to the denizens of Loftus Road.

No doubt Redknapp is already planning his next move if he gets into the top flight – and no doubt he would add colour and candour to the Premier League if he did return.

He might also give a few of the North East’s unwanted players a possible escape route, with Rangers understood to have an interest in Steven Taylor – whose agent Willie McKay has knowledge of both parties.

For the prizes on offer, these games tend to be surprisingly tension-free affairs. Sunderland will forever remember their draw with Charlton which ended in play-off heartbreak and Michael Gray’s penalty miss, but for the rest of the football world, all that they recall is the glorious game that preceded it.

With two decent sides on show, it should be a fine contest at Wembley befitting the prize on offer.

Everywhere you look, there will be North East interest in the final. Steve McClaren, his reputation now rehabilitated after a successful spell in charge of Derby County, will lead out the Rams, while Rangers have Danny Simpson in their back four.

Simpson was a good servant for Newcastle and, although they upgraded with Mathieu Debuchy’s signing, few would wish the right-back ill as his team go into battle with West Ham.

“They wanted Debuchy; I knew about it, there was no secret,” Simpson said. “I got on well with the manager and chairman, they offered me a new contract, but with the rumours of signing Debuchy, I didn’t want to go from playing week in, week out to being a squad player. I wanted to play every Saturday afternoon. So we shook hands and I left.”

For Simpson, this is a chance to return the team that he signed for because of their Premier League reputation to the division that he believes they should be playing in. The right-back wants to complete the “project” that he started when he joined the club.

“I’ve never played at Wembley and I think everyone who follows football knows how big this game is, and if you get through it what it means to everyone.

“I’m trying not to think about losing and spending another year in the Championship. We are just concentrating on the job we have to do.

“The whole squad knows the task ahead of us, we are all together and we all want the same outcome so we will give 100% to make sure we get Premier League football.

“I think we would be the first to admit, if we don’t go up, that it will have been a disappointing season. We’ve got Premier League players who have played at the highest level. The reason I came to QPR was because of the project to get back there, and we have got one game to go. We are all ready to go out and perform in the one game to get us back to the Premier League.”

For McClaren, it is a huge opportunity to continue rehabilitating his reputation.

He said: “I love working with this group, they play exactly how I want them and it’s wonderful. We’ve excited the fans. The question is can we go one further? It’s a great challenge. Nobody expected this six months ago. It’s the occasion we’ve got to handle.”


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