Championship: Austin’s double sends QPR into Wembley final

Frank Dalleres
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QUEENS Park Rangers midfielder Joey Barton hailed the team’s “band of brothers” after they stayed on course for an immediate return to the Premier League – and an £80m windfall – last night.

Striker Charlie Austin struck twice, including an extra-time winner, as Rangers came from behind to beat Wigan and claim a place in the Championship play-off final at Wembley later this month.

A strong season looked to have petered out until Austin’s return from injury last month, though Barton believes QPR’s resurgence has as much to do with their new-found solidarity.

“It was a transition period after a terrible season in the Premier League the year before,” said Barton. “I think it was a case of maybe getting rid of one or two and building a nucleus of a squad, a group of men together – a sort of band of brothers – which is what we’ve tried to do.”

Rangers are poised to meet a familiar foe in the play-off final in the form of Steve McClaren, who has reinvigorated Derby since leaving his coaching role at Loftus Road for the top job at Pride Park.

Promotion to the Premier League is estimated to be worth at least £120m in additional revenue by Deloitte, but £40m less to QPR since they already benefit from parachute payments having been relegated 12 months ago.

A place at Wembley on 24 May looked a distant prospect for Rangers when James Perch beat Clint Hill to James McClean’s cross and put the visitors ahead in the ninth minute.

QPR regained momentum when Kevin Doyle was pushed into attack but it was not until the 73rd minute that they equalised, Austin converting a penalty after Gary Caldwell fouled Junior Hoilett.

Six minutes into extra-time Austin, who was playing in the ninth tier for Poole Town less than five years ago, notched his 20th of the season and what proved to be the winner.

Manager Harry Redknapp said: “All round it was a great performance. We showed a lot of character, great character. Everybody dug in.”