Malky Mackay, Cardiff's now promotion-winning manager, has revealed the planning for Premier League life has already started after leading the Welsh club into the promised land after a 51-year long wait.
A goalless draw with Charlton will officially go down in the record books as the moment the Bluebirds sealed automatic promotion. In effect, it was only a matter of time for Cardiff, who led the Championship since 24 November, before their spot in the top-flight was secured. But never has a stalemate been met with such joyous celebration as Cardiff finally ditched their tag as “nearly men” to return to the big time for the first time since 1962.
The Welsh club failed on the final day to reach the top six at Hillsborough in 2009, lost out to Blackpool in the Championship play-off final at Wembley a year later before two successive semi-final defeats. But the recent failures were laid to rest when referee Scott Mathieson blew the final whistle after 93 torturous minutes here.
Mackay hugged his backroom staff on the touchline, Craig Bellamy fell to the ground and broke down in tears while the vast majority of the home faithful sparked a pitch invasion. Yet Mackay, who won promotion as a player with Norwich, Watford and West Ham, already had his eyes firmly set on the next challenge of facing the likes of Manchester United, City and Chelsea in the top division next season.
Mackay said: “It's a huge challenge. We are going into one of the best leagues in the world. But I've got good staff and people here.We will go up and prepare properly, but the planning has started already. We'll now put that into action.
”I'll make sure that the departments we have opened up in the last two years and structure at the football club to keep striving forward and keep adding because change is constant. If you don't go with it, you are left behind.
“We've been changing and adapting for two years and pushing the evenlope trying to get the best practice in every avenue we've gone down. We will continue that to try and give ourselves the best chance possible we can in the Premier League.We'll try and be competitive - it's something we have done in the Championship.
”Our fans will accept mistakes, but they won't accept a lack of effort. That won't change.“
The game largely proved forgettable as the sense of relief engulfed the Cardiff City Stadium as the celebrations started with the home side now joining neighbours Swansea City to provide a major boost for Welsh football.
Mackay added: ”I'm very proud of the football club. It's an occasion where the people have waited for an awful long time. They've had disappointments, but this meant a lot to everyone. Our owner [Vincent Tan] has put a lot of money into the club over the last four years, the players and the people of Cardiff because they have waited a long time to be back into the top division.
“Hopefully this is a little way to repaying them for their backing over the last 20 months. I'm so happy for them.”
Cardiff clinched promotion after overcoming the controversial rebranding of the club last summer which saw Tan change the club's kit colour from blue to red. But Mackay revealed his thanks to the Malaysian billionaire owner, who pumped in £13m during the close season on new recruits, for his support during this historic campaign.
Mackay said: “Vincent came into the dressing room and had a chat in the boardroom. It's a new thing for him. This season is when he went hands on. There's been a lot of firsts for him, he's been learning about the football club, the division and life in south Wales. A lot of credit has to go to him.”
The Charlton manager, Chris Powell, a former team-mate of Mackay, revealed his pride in his old colleague's achievement. Powell said: “I spoke to Malky a minute before the final whistle and it's great that he is the one to lead them into the Premier League.
”Cardiff have been ever so close over the years and almost been able to touch it. But I know Malky really well and I'm very proud of him. I said to him, 'Enjoy the moment. This is your time. Relax and saviour every second.'“
Cardiff (4-5-1): Marshall; McNaughton, Turner, Barnett, Taylor; Noone (Smith, 71), Kim, Gunnarsson, Mutch, Bellamy; Gested.
Charlton (4-4-2): Hamer; Solly, Morrison, Dervite, Wiggins; Harriott, Hughes (Gower, 81), Jackson, Pritchard (Green, 88); Kermorgant, Fuller (Obika, 81).
Referee Scott Mathieson (Cheshire).