Mackay joy as Cardiff on the way to Wembley

CARDIFF boss Malky Mackay hailed his side’s “nerves of steel” after they reached the Carling Cup final last night after a thrilling penalty shootout win over Championship rivals Crystal Palace last night.

“We’ve been at this stage before in this competition and the guys who took the penalties had nerves of steel,” he said. “Tom Heaton has been our cup keeper and with some of the blame given to him after the goal in the first leg, maybe there was a bit of justice tonight.”

Palace, who had their captain, Ireland’s Paddy McCarthy sent off late in the game, had withstood wave after wave of Cardiff pressure to take the match to a penalty shoot-out after the tie finished 1-1 on aggregate.

But the Eagles’ nerves failed them in the shoot-out, with Jermaine Easter, Irish youngster Sean Scannell and Jonathan Parr all missing from the spot as Cardiff booked a place in the final against Liverpool or Manchester City.

Cardiff clinched victory when Parr’s penalty flew high and wide to spark wild celebrations.

The game had gone to spot-kicks after Anthony Gardner — the goal hero for Palace in the first leg — scored an own goal after only seven minutes.

Gardner could only watch in horror after he got on the end of a Craig Conway cross to head past stranded keeper Julian Speroni.

Cardiff dominated for much of the match but were unable to find the killer touch in front of goal.

Full-back Andrew Taylor bludgeoned a volley over the bar and veteran Scottish striker Kenny Miller should have done better when gifted an opportunity by Parr’s poor clearance.

Miller also had the home crowd out of their seats near half-time when his volley crashed off the woodwork.

A similar pattern unfolded in the second half but again Cardiff’s finishing let them down.

Palace were reduced to 10 men 13 minutes from the end of normal time, McCarthy receiving his marching orders from referee Howard Webb after picking up his second yellow card of the night for flattening Miller.

Cardiff were unable to make the extra man count however, and the game duly went to extra-time.

The Bluebirds were on top throughout the additional 30 minutes, with Filip Kiss and Gunnarsson hitting the woodwork before the penalty drama.

CARDIFF: Heaton, Blake (McNaughton 80), Gerrard, Turner, Taylor, Cowie (Gestede 102), Whittingham, Gunnarsson, McPhail (Kiss 83), Conway, Miller.

CRYSTAL PALACE: Speroni, Parr, McCarthy, Gardner, Clyne, Ambrose (McShane 79), Dikgacoi, Jedinak, Zaha, Murray (Easter 83), Martin (Scannell 75).

Ref: Howard Webb.

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