LIVE: The Sky Bet Football League Play-Offs 2014
By Tony Leighton
Come rain or come shine, Derby County manager Steve McClaren will not be taking an umbrella to Wembley when his team heads to the Sky Bet Championship Play-Off Final after conclusively beating Brighton and Hove Albion in the semi.
The last time that McClaren led a side at Wembley was as England manager in 2007, when he was infamously dubbed 'the wally with the brolly' after the national team was knocked out of qualifying for Euro 2008 by Croatia.
Just as on that occasion, it was pouring with rain as Derby took on Brighton in the second leg of their Play-Off semi at the iPro Stadium. But a 4-1 win for the Rams to complete an aggregate 6-2 victory meant an entirely different outcome.
As he celebrated a tremendous performance and result, however, McClaren was inevitably given a Croatia 2007 memory jog. "Oh, thanks for reminding me - I was just starting to enjoy the day," he responded with a wry smile.
"I won't be taking a brolly this time, I know that much. I've been to Wembley a few times since and I'll be back next week for the FA Cup final. It'll be nice to go back because I've got some great memories as well as some bad ones.
"The media attention and everything," he added knowingly, "it's all new for these players and you know this is what we're going to have to deal with. But we'll try as best we can to prepare in the right manner, in the right way."
McClaren's team were certainly prepared in the right way to face Brighton on Sunday. After a 2-1 away win in the first leg they were irresistible on home soil, sweeping aside the Seagulls to deservedly reach the Wembley final.
Goals from Will Hughes, Chris Martin, George Thorne and Jeff Hendrick gave the Rams a victory that underlined their superiority and they will surely be favourites to beat either Queens Park Rangers or Wigan Athletic on 24th May.
McClaren, who will on Monday evening be at QPR to watch the second leg of that second semi-final, hailed his team's outstanding display. "In the first leg we won ugly," he said, " but today was exactly what I wanted from the players.
"What a performance. I mean from minute one they just wore Brighton down. The goals were unbelievable and we felt there were more goals in us. But the way we actually dominated the game, that's what impressed me the most.
"It was a performance that was worthy of the accolades that the players will be getting. Now we've got to deal with everything that comes our way, with the sideshow and all the accolades and all the preparations for Wembley.
"But we'll get that out the way and we'll have good preparation, and the key thing is that they have got to perform like that [in the final]. And if they do perform like that, then we're a match for anybody in this division."
If Derby prove more than a match for either QPR or Wigan they will be back in the Premier League for the first time since the 2007/08 season, when in a disastrous campaign they finished bottom with a record low 11 points.
So when they visit Wembley at the end of the month both the Rams and McClaren will be aiming for a victory that can put the club and its manager on the road to redemption and to hopefully restoring reputations all round.
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