Bluebirds aim to make it third time lucky

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Hammertime: Cardiff host West Ham in their semi-final first leg this evening Photo: ITV Wales News

If Cardiff City should fail to make it through the play-offs, it won't be for lack of practice.

This is the third successive year that the Bluebirds have booked their spot in the annual end of season shoot-out: and while most of the current crop didn't feature on those occasions, they have tasted the tribulations of sudden death soccer. This season's two legged semi-final against Crystal Palace (not to mention the final against Liverpool) provided a preview of what to expect in terms of edge-of-the-seat drama.

"I think that going into two semi-finals in a pressure situation is something that they've had very recently." Says manager Malky Mackay.

"It's not even a year ago, it's something that's happened a few months ago. And there was an intensity about those two semi finals against Crystal Palace because of the prize at the end of the day. And I think it'll be a very similar situation."

West Ham, there or thereabouts at the top of the Championship all season, deservedly wear the badge of favourites. But being a well-resourced club with Premier League pedigree brings with it its own pressures. Just ask Malky, who played for the Hammers when they won their own play-off promotion in 2004.

"There was an expectation on us to win the play-of final and get back to the Premier League again where [the fans] say they belong. That's not changed this season. They've had financial strength as can be seen by the size of the squad and the quality of the players. Financial strength in the fact that they've been able to go and hire a top manager. Purely because of that, and also the fact that they've been in the top 3 the whole season, means that there's an expectation level there and will rightly be the favourites."

Favourites perhaps, but also the team with much more to lose than Malky's overachieving Bluebirds. For Cardiff, the objective will be to return to Upton Park on Monday on level terms, a situation sure to put some pressure on the London side. Win, and a Wembley Final against Birmingham or Blackpool would beckon.

Could it be third time lucky for Cardiff after all?