Jones determined to silence doubters and lead Cardiff to the promised land

Manager takes side to Reading tonight eager to answer the fans who fear club has missed its best chance already
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The Independent Online

It may be something of a South Wales custom to refer to each other as "butt", but that is not why Dave Jones calls Cardiff "But City". The Bluebirds manager is acutely aware a huge question mark hangs over his reign, which will only be satisfied if and when Premier League promotion is earned after this latest play-off campaign.

Jones believes it to be "a fantastic achievement" to have finished fourth and be visiting Reading tonight in the first leg of the semi-final. His critics in the locality obviously will not agree. To their mind, anything but automatic promotion was a failure from a squad boasting the likes of Craig Bellamy, Jay Bothroyd, Michael Chopra and Peter Whittingham, not to mention a month's worth of Aaron Ramsey. After last year's play-off final, for them the Road to Wembley is paved more with recent heartache than gold.

"People seem to think we had this divine right for automatic promotion," said Jones yesterday. "Maybe we should have [finished in the top two] but this is still a fantastic achievement. We're one of four clubs in the division to have never been in the Premier League. But we're knocking on the door again."

They'll be knocking on his door if Cardiff fail, that much is certain. Jones has long had a fractious relationship with the Welsh media. The country's biggest newspaper group has been banned from his press conferences all season, after what the Liverpudlian perceived as negative publicity building up angst among the support. Jones stresses the great strides the club has made in his six-year reign, the longest of any current Championship manager. The new stadium, the new training complex, the increased attendances. And then there has been the League table itself.

"It's funny, when we stopped at the services on our way back from Burnley last Saturday, a guy got off a supporters' coach and I thought, 'here we go'," said Jones. "I call us 'But City' because the fans say to me, 'You're doing well, but...' or 'Keep it going, but...' Yet this guy said, 'I've been supporting Cardiff for 45 years and the last five have been the best ever'.

"Before that, he said he was travelling to places like Aldershot and Maidstone. In fact his only complaint was that we were costing him too much money because we keep going to Wembley. He will have a moan about picking the right team but he said we have been on a fantastic journey. All the fans who have supported the club for many years know how hard it has been, where we've been and how far we have come"

Indeed, if Cardiff do beat Reading (the return leg is on Tuesday) it will mean they will visit Wembley for the fourth time in a little over three years. The FA Cup run, which only ended in the final against Portsmouth, seems a lot longer ago than 2008, but then the club has been through so much. From the controversial chairmanship of Peter Ridsdale, to the threat of administration, to the Malaysian takeover, to two seasons when Cardiff seemed in constant sight of promotion, to the agonising play-off final last year; to the giddying injection of hope triggered by the arrival of Bellamy.

As Jones points out, amid this rollercoaster ride it has been easy to overlook the lower league mundanity that came before: "Maybe it's the fans who have only been here for the last five years who forget what's been going on here in the last 25 years."

Cardiff are favourites, but despite winning only one of their last four games, Reading will fancy their chances against a team beset by internal recrimination since the woeful 3-0 home loss to Middlesbrough 12 days ago which effectively handed Norwich the dream ticket. Players were seen out on the town in the early hours two days before their critical fixture and Jones has admitted feeling "let down". However, he is adamant the last few weeks will not be allowed to wreck an entire season of endeavour.

"We have been consistent and we have to see it through," he said. "I hope the players rise to the occasion and don't freeze. We won't let the players rest, just look at Sir Alex [Ferguson]. It's a drug to you and we won't settle for second best. We have one big step to go."

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