Cardiff City booked their place in the Carling Cup final courtesy of an inspired penalty shoot-out display from second-choice goalkeeper Tom Heaton to beat 10-man Crystal Palace last night.
Heaton, who is usually on the bench in the Championship, proved to be the hero for Malky Mackay's side by saving spot-kicks from Jermaine Easter and Sean Scannell before Palace left-back Jonathan Parr missed to seal a fourth Wembley appearance for the Welsh side since 2008.
Now the former Manchester United trainee believes Cardiff can win the League Cup for the first time in their history against either Liverpool or Manchester City at Wembley on 26 February. Heaton said: "Playing at Wembley is massive and every boy's dream. We will enjoy it but also try and win the game. We won't just go there for a day out.
"I barely touched the ball in normal time so I was just happy to get involved in the penalties. I knew which way a few of their players were going to go. The backroom staff did a great job to put a clip together on their penalties over the last few years."
Anthony Gardner's seventh-minute own goal levelled the scores quickly on aggregate, wiping out the advantage from the first leg earned by his header at Selhurst Park, yet how the home side did not seal their final berth before the end of 120 minutes remains a mystery.
Kenny Miller, who later missed in the shoot-out, hit the post in the first period, and after Palace had captain Patrick McCarthy sent off by referee Howard Webb for a second bookable offence in the 78th minute, Cardiff's Filip Kiss and Aron Gunnarsson both hit the crossbar in extra time.
Heaton added: "It would have been a travesty had we lost. Going into the game, we all knew how high the levels of concentration had to be as one goal probably would have killed us and made it all the more difficult."
The success is all the more remarkable for the fact that Cardiff manager Malky Mackay only had 10 senior professionals when he was appointed last summer. Mackay said: "I am delighted with the performance and the early goal calmed us down. It was a fine night's work.
"When Aron hit the bar I thought it probably wasn't going to be our night. But I had great belief in the group. I've been overwhelmed by the support of the owners and we're all pushing in one direction. Tom deserves all the accolades he gets. He has been fabulous throughout the competition as he has been second fiddle to David Marshall in the league, but he knew this was his competition."
The Palace manager, Dougie Freedman, had fanned the flames by claiming Cardiff would be "scared stiff" after failures to get over the final hurdle in recent play-off and cup finals. However, after those dangerous utterances came back to haunt the Scotsman, Freedman insisted he did the right thing.
He said: "I've no regrets about those comments. I just told my players the facts of what had happened at Cardiff in the past. I'm proud of my players and I couldn't ask for anymore."
Cardiff City: McNaughton (Blake, 80), Kiss (McPhail, 83),
Gestede (Cowie, 102)
Crystal Palace: Scannell (Martin, 75), McShane (Ambrose, 79), Easter (Murray, 83)
Cardiff: Blake, Gunnarsson
Palace: Clyne. McCarthy (twice)
Palace: McCarthy (78)
Man of the match
Match rating 7/10.
Crystal Palace 39%.
Attempts on target
Crystal Palace: 0
Referee H Webb (South Yorkshire)Reuse content