Dave Jones has battled against a backdrop of financial uncertainty all season but will be presented with the opportunity to transform Cardiff's cash worries in a £60m shoot-out at Wembley. Jones is preparing for his third trip there in two seasons after another enthralling Championship play-off was finally settled by David Marshall's two penalty saves.
Marshall, who was relegated last season with Norwich City, repelled an appalling effort from Leicester striker Yann Kermorgant and then saved Martyn Waghorn's spot kick to ensure Jones will face Ian Holloway's Blackpool in the capital.
Jones was once given a horse by Holloway and the pair will have a chance to prove who is the real thoroughbred a week on Saturday, with Premier League football only a mere gallop away.
"It's a sad way to lose but a fantastic way to win," he said. "It's a nice feeling but this club's come a long way and we've still got a long way to go.
"The first two years here was about survival and the next two was about building. We've done that with all the problems off the field but we've dug deep and never given up.
"The final is as big as the European Cup," Jones added. "This could be life-changing for everybody at Cardiff. I've been in the play-offs many times, won shoot-outs and lost them. I've been through everything you possibly can and I appreciate the good times."
Five years of hard toil at Cardiff have yielded Jones his first finish in the top six this season, and they deserve credit for recovering from an agonising end to the last campaign, when they dropped out of the play-off spots on the final day.
Cardiff started at a frenetic pace and were rewarded for their pressure in the 21st minute when Michael Chopra pounced for his 20th goal of the season with consummate ease. The expected avalanche did not materialise, however, with Matty Fryatt delivering a swift riposte on his first start since late February before the outstanding Steve Howard forced an own goal from Mark Hudson.
Four minutes into the second period Andy King rose unopposed to nod Paul Gallagher's centre home, the first time Cardiff had conceded three goals on their own turf since moving into their new stadium last summer. But Peter Whittingham got his 25th goal of the season from the penalty spot after Alex Bruce's needless challenge on Chopra and when extra time could not find a winner, Marshall emerged as the hero. Kermorgant's inexplicable spot kick, an attempted chip, was easily saved by Marshall and after Mark Kennedy had converted Cardiff's fourth, Waghorn's effort was also saved to spark crazy scenes.
"Penalties are exciting for everybody else but its very tough to take," Nigel Pearson, the Leicester manager, said . "Life is full of disappointment at times but I'm very proud of the players and proud of their application. Unfortunately it boils down to a penalty shoot-out to determine whether our season progresses. I'll reflect on the bigger picture and we've made great strides this year."
Cardiff City (4-4-2): Marshall; McNaughton (Quinn, 97), Hudson, Blake, Kennedy; Burke (Etuhu, 62), McPhail, Ledley, Whittingham (McCormack, 91); Bothroyd, Chopra. Substitutes not used Enckleman (gk), Gyepes, Capaldi, Wildig.
Leicester City (4-4-2): Weale; Solano, Bruce, Hobbs, Berner; Gallagher (Spearing, 72), Wellens, King, Dyer (Waghorn, 72); Fryatt (Kermorgant, 97), Howard. Substitutes not used Logan (gk), N'Guessan, Vaughan, Morrison.
Referee H Webb (S Yorkshire).