The emotions of the end-of-season play-offs traditionally range from tension to despair or overwhelming joy, but for calm Cardiff City manager Malky Mackay this is familiar territory. Mackay's Bluebirds face West Ham in the first leg of the Championship semi-finals at the Cardiff City Stadium tonight, with the Scotsman aiming for a hat-trick of promotions via the knockout lottery.
Former Hammers defender Mackay went up to the top flight as a player with West Ham in 2005, then Watford the following year. Now he hopes to extend his run with in-form Cardiff, who went 10 matches unbeaten at the end of the regular season and also reached the Carling Cup final.
Mackay said: "I have been in the Championship for 15 years and lucky enough to be involved on three occasions as a player. I lost once with Norwich on penalties.
"But I know what mentality it takes to get promoted this way – and so do a lot of my players and that's what counts. We know what is coming and that is key. That will only help us because you can't buy experience. It will give us a strong mentality going into the tie.
"And the Carling Cup experience will also definitely help us. The players have been involved in a pressure situation very recently. There was an intensity about those semi-finals with Crystal Palace because of the prize. It will be a very similar situation. We have momentum at the moment. But it will come down to who is the calmest on the day, gets a bit of luck and tactically gets it right."
Cardiff will be the underdogs to reach Wembley on 19 May after finishing in sixth spot, and Mackay, who spent a successful 12 months at Upton Park, has attempted to turn up the pressure on counterpart Sam Allardyce by claiming his former club, who finished third, are favourites to go through to the final.
Mackay, 40, added: "There is more pressure on West Ham because of the nature of that club. There is an expectation level. They have a huge and demanding support who expect to be in the top division.
"It was the same when I was there in 2005. When we got to the play-off final, there was an expectation on us to get back to the Premier League where they belong. That's not changed this season and they will rightly be the favourites."
The strength of West Ham's squad is highlighted by the fact they have England international Robert Green in goal. And he knows Wembley well. "To play at Wembley in front of 90,000 people in one of the biggest one-off games in the world would be nice," Green said. "If that's not enough of a carrot dangled in front of us, I don't know what is."
Cardiff City (probable): Marshall; McNaughton, Hudson (capt), Turner, Taylor; Cowie, Lawrence, Gunnarsson, Whittingham, Mason; Miller.
West Ham United (probable): Green; Demel, Reid, Tomkins, Taylor; Nolan (capt), Noble, O'Neil, Lansbury; Vaz Te, Cole.Reuse content