Steve McClaren back at Wembley as Derby ease past Brighton
DERBY COUNTY 4 BRIGHTON (Derby won 6-2 on aggregate)
Steve McClaren felt the performance of his team was "almost perfect" after leading Derby to the Sky Bet Championship play-off final with a comprehensive victory over Brighton.
The Rams and McClaren stand on the brink of ending their exile from the Barclays Premier League after brushing aside Albion to reach the Wembley showpiece later this month.
Leading 2-1 from Thursday's first leg, McClaren's men completed a 6-2 aggregate victory at the iPro Stadium.
Will Hughes' first goal since November gave Derby the half-time lead before further strikes from Chris Martin, George Thorne and Jeff Hendrick sealed the club's first return to Wembley since the 2006-07 season, when the Rams were last promoted to the top flight.
Kazenga LuaLua's late reply was a mere consolation for Brighton, who tasted defeat in the play-off semi-finals for the second successive year.
Derby will play the winner of the second semi-final between QPR and Wigan, who resume tonight at Loftus Road with the tie goalless.
"It will be hugely enjoyable to lead a very, very talented Derby County squad out at Wembley," said head coach McClaren.
"We wanted a performance after a rather ugly 2-1 victory at Brighton, and boy did we get one.
"We were awesome, mixing energy and entertainment to thrill our wonderful supporters. We looked a damned good side and were almost perfect.
"If we can produce the same level of performance at Wembley, I reckon we can be a match for anybody."
The final could complete a remarkable turnaround for both Derby and McClaren.
Upon his appointment as Nigel Clough's successor at the start of October, when the Rams were 14th in the league table, McClaren conceded there remained a "stigma" that has tarnished his career in this country, after his difficult spells in charge of the national team and Nottingham Forest and, for many, will always carry the cruel moniker of "the wally with the brolly".
He added: "I love going to Wembley. But I tell you this, I shall not be taking an umbrella whatever the weather."