By Tony Leighton
Queens Park Rangers are set for Saturday's Sky Bet Championship Play-Off Final against Derby County 10 months after manager Harry Redknapp feared that his team might end the campaign like Wolverhampton Wanderers did last season - with a second successive relegation after dropping out of the Premier League.
Rangers had not only lost their top-flight status but had also seen many of their top players depart, leaving the Loftus Road side bereft of many star names but nevertheless with a huge debt that was mounting in part due to a wage bill that has reportedly been higher than Champions League finalists Atletico Madrid.
As Redknapp began his re-building job his worries emerged in a pre-season friendly at Peterborough United.
"We went to Peterborough and got beat and I thought we could be in trouble," he admitted. "I got a feeling that if we weren't careful we could do a Wolves this year. That was my honest opinion at that time.
"People were talking about massive wage bills, but we had 18 players leave last summer. A lot of them we didn't want to keep, but a few we didn't want to lose.
"We couldn't keep Loic Remy and look at the year he's had at Newcastle. Stephane M'bia has scored two goals in a Europa League semi-final for Sevilla and Adel Taarabt's playing for AC Milan, so they weren't exactly mugs we let go.
"I think we've done quite well - we let those 18 players go and we were almost throwing a team together at the start of the season. But the way we set off and the way we have gone, I'm very pleased."
The way QPR set off was very impressive, losing only one league game in the first third of the season to sit joint top of the table with Leicester City and Burnley.
But as the Foxes and the Clarets drove on to claim the two automatic promotion places, the Hoops dropped off the pace and finished fourth -13 points below the top two and five points adrift of third in the table Derby.
Ironically the manager that Redknapp will be facing at Wembley, Steve McClaren, is the man he gave a job to on QPR's coaching staff at the start of the season when the former England boss was unemployed.
McClaren then left Loftus Road for the iPro Stadium at the end of September and has brilliantly led his team from mid-table to the brink of the Premier League.
While QPR ended the season with just three wins in their last 10 outings including the Play-Off Semi-Final against Wigan Athletic, Derby won seven times in an eight-match run culminating in a Play-Off semi win against Brighton.
"Steve's excellent," said Redknapp as he looked ahead to their Wembley clash, "he's a very good coach and a top manager. I'm really pleased for him that he's gone to Derby and done well.
"I think Derby are favourites, they've had a great run and Steve's done a fantastic job with them. They're a young side full of energy, a good team - but we're a good team as well and it's got all the ingredients of being a real good match-up."
If the match-up ends in a QPR victory it will mean a rapid return to the Premier League and crucial injection of massive finances for the West London club.
That would indeed be cause for huge celebrations, but they would be celebrations that Redknapp says he would not join in.
"I won't be going to any party on Saturday night if we win," he said, "I'll be going out to have a bit of pasta with the missus. And if we lose? I'll probably still go out for pasta - if I sat indoors it would be a long night, but life goes on the next day."
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