Home » EPL, Latest, League Cup » Carling Cup SF 2nd Leg: Cardiff 1 Crystal Palace 0; agg 1-1; Cardiff win 3-1 on pens

They fought it out over two legs, through extra-time and then, when they were almost spent, into a penalty shoot-out too. Two ambitious sides, driven by two burgeoning young managers but, in the end, it was Cardiff City who reached the final of the Carling Cup.

The Bluebirds soared; the Eagles fell. It was a right Cardiff indisputably deserved and the Principality, already burnished by the achievements of Swansea City, is swelling with further pride.

Not that the Cardiff supporters, who swarmed on to the pitch after Jonathan Parr’s penalty kick flew over the crossbar at precisely 10.31pm, will have given a thought to their Welsh rivals, apart from the opportunity to steal back some of their limelight with a capital adventure and a final appearance — their first in the history of this competition – against Liverpool or Manchester City.

If it is Liverpool, it will be Cardiff defender Anthony Gerrard against his cousin Steven; it will be Craig Bellamy against the club he supports.

But it was so cruel on Palace, who have been through so much, endured such troubles off the field, and who played out the remainder of this contest with 10 men having lost their captain Paddy McCarthy to a second-half dismissal.

They will now fret over whether, having been denied the chance of a Wembley appearance, they can hold on much longer to the mercurial, potential brilliance of Wilfried Zaha and the dynamism of Nathaniel Clyne.

In the end the hero was the Cardiff goalkeeper Tom Heaton, a former Manchester United trainee whose career has been fitful. He had been blamed for the concession of the Palace goal in the first leg but, here, in the steady drizzle, saved twice in the penalty shoot-out. In truth, Palace were running on empty by then.

Their penalty efforts lacked the conviction they had previously displayed.

Cardiff will rightly point to the pressure they exerted throughout this tie and they struck the frame of the goal three times on Tuesday night — twice in extra-time — when they besieged the Palace goal as their supporters wiled them on with rising waves of desperation.

Against that, the 3,500 visiting fans kept up a wall of defiant, impressive noise. It was a Championship clash and, at times, there was not the rarefied ability that a semi-final occasion sometimes commands but it was no worse a tie for that.

Spare a thought also for Anthony Gardner. His header had given Palace the slender advantage they took into this second leg but he then inadvertently stooped to head Don Cowie’s cross into his own net inside the opening 10 minutes to cancel out that lead.

In an instant, Palace were on the back foot. In an instant, their hopes of withstanding the expected torrent of Cardiff pressure had been dashed. Now this young side had to dig deep and hope they could also ride their luck.

They did just that. Twice in the first period, Kenny Miller went close but could not score. First he ran on to Aron Gunnarsson’s pass and clipped his shot narrowly past a post. Then Craig Conway crossed and Miller brought the ball down nimbly to thump a low shot which cannoned back off the post.

Palace’s hopes rested on Zaha’s incursions and his quick feet earned a series of free-kicks and half chances but also, curiously, he appeared to irritate referee Howard Webb as well as the home supporters. The stakes were high, of course, and McCarthy earned a first caution for hauling down Miller before Peter Whittingham tested Julian Speroni with a series of shots from distance .

Whittingham took another free-kick, after another foul, but this time he chipped it to Gerrard who had run unmarked to head goalwards with Speroni stranded. McCarthy back-pedalled to hook off the line before, crucially, Palace lost him when Webb deemed another challenge on Miller worthy of a second caution and a red card.

Before that Zaha had spurned Palace’s best chance when he was picked out by substitute Sean Scannell, only to panic and slice his shot wide while Miller stole in at the near post to divert a flick on across the goal rather than into it.

Down to 10 men, Palace had to regroup and, inevitably, became entrenched. Zaha and Scannell attempted to break out but the pressure was relentless.

Into extra-time and the chances piled up, only to be wasted. Substitute Filip Kiss headed over, Cowie drove over and then, twice, Cardiff struck the woodwork. First Kiss clipped the bar with a half-volley and then, somehow, Gunnarsson headed against the same part of the goal from point-blank range while Whittingham’s shot was diverted into the side-netting.

Could Palace, having withstood this onslaught, somehow prevail in the shoot-out? Cardiff would have feared it was fated but, despite missing their first effort, it was they who held their nerve to earn the victory they deserved by the narrowest of margins.

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