Cardiff keeper Tom Heaton was the hero with two saves in a 3-1 penalty shootout win over Crystal Palace as the Bluebirds reached their first ever Carling Cup final.
Cardiff had led on the night after Anthony Gardner, Palace's first-leg matchwinner, put through his own net. The hosts struck the woodwork three times through Kenny Miller, Filip Kiss and Aron Gunnarsson, while Palace played with 10 men from the 78th minute after captain Paddy McCarthy was dismissed for two fouls on Scotland striker Miller.
But the missed chances did not prove costly as Heaton, who is second choice behind David Marshall, saved from Jermaine Easter and Sean Scannell, before Jonathan Parr put the decisive spot-kick wide.
Cardiff took the lead in just the seventh minute as Gardner, who had given Palace their slender advantage, drew the Bluebirds level in the tie by putting through his own net. Darcy Blake played Don Cowie in down the right and Gardner could only turn his cross past a stranded Julian Speroni.
The hosts remained the dominant force, enjoying large swathes of possession and Miller should have doubled their lead after Parr's woeful header gifted Gunnarsson possession. The midfielder played the Scotland striker in as Palace appealed in vain for offside, but his left-footed shot rolled agonisingly wide of the right-hand post.
And there was more anguish for Miller when he hammered a volley against the post moments before the interval. Miller was again in the thick of the action on the resumption, picking his way past three defenders before working the ball to Peter Whittingham, whose low shot beat Speroni but also the near post.
Cardiff were given a reminder of the threat the visitors posed on the counter as substitute Scannell's first contribution was to tee up Wilfired Zaha, but the teenager could only blaze harmlessly wide.
Having missed that great opportunity to put themselves back in front on aggregate, Palace were then reduced to 10 men with 12 minutes to go as McCarthy was handed a second booking following another tussle with Miller, leaving the centre-half decidedly unimpressed by Howard Webb's decision.
With the extra man Cardiff dominated the entirety of the 30-minute period and would not have had to endure the agonies of penalties had Kiss not whacked a volley against the bar from inside the box, and Gunnarsson not done likewise by contriving to find the woodwork with his point-blank header.
Those misses looked like they might prove costly when Miller missed the first spot-kick, but Heaton saved low down from Easter and Scannell, before Parr failed to find the target to send the Welsh club to Wembley for the third time in five seasons and spark a minor pitch invasion by the delighted home support.
- Sports & Recreation
- Sports & Recreation/Soccer