Accrington Stanley 0-2 Cardiff City
If this week has taught Cardiff City anything it’s that football moves on quickly and there is no time to dwell on past glories.
With former Premier League champions Manchester City still licking their wounds after Sunday’s heroics, the Bluebirds have enjoyed their spell as the darlings of the football world.
But that glory was quickly forgotten as Accrington Stanley made them fight every step of the way in front of 1,617 passionate fans on a cold dark night in central Lancashire.
A Bluebirds team lacking Sunday’s swagger and organisation, were forced to battle their way to a 2-0 win, earned by a quickfire double scored on the hour by Nicky Maynard and Rudy Gestede.
However, progress in the competition is one thing, getting your squad back to South Wales in one piece is another.
In the build up to this match, which undoubtedly featured a post Lord Mayor’s show feel, Mackay spoke the right words and promised to respect the competition he fell in love with during his team’s run to the Wembley final in 2012.
He even warmed himself up by taking the short hop along the M65 for Burnley’s feisty derby clash with Preston the previous night.
Despite Saturday’s Premier League clash against Everton looming large on the horizon, first team contenders Andreas Cornelius, Craig Noone, Mark Hudson and Nicky Maynard were all risked at the Storefirst.com Stadium, or Crown Ground for the benefit of traditionalists.
After failing to take any such gambles last season, as his Bluebirds were beaten at Northampton and Macclesfield in the early stages of both domestic cup competitions, Cardiff’s increasingly ambitious manager played a group of big-names on the brink of Premier League reckoning.
But the dice seemed to be rolling in the wrong direction when in the first attack of the game, the underdogs set sternly about the Bluebirds as Tom Aldred cut straight through Noone to set alarm bells ringing on the visiting bench.
As the half wore on, left back Michael Liddle targeted the wideman, who was emerging as the best attacking outlet, and was booked for one particularly heavy tackle.
But the tricky winger embodied the spirit of this Cardiff team as he dusted himself down and continued to cause problems for the Football League’s lowest placed team, even though he suffered a nosebleed close to half time.
There was though a sickening sense of inevitability when moments before making the break unscathed, the most expensive player on the field, £8.5m striker Andreas Cornelius, was stretchered off with an ankle injury and will miss Saturday’s game against the Toffees.
In a largely uneventful first half, the only place Mackay’s men picked up where they left off from Sunday was their ever impressive corners.
The cup tie’s first came from one of last weekend’s set piece heroes Don Cowie.
On this occasion he landed one right under the crossbar of Stanley’s debutant keeper Marcus Betinelli.
But the Fulham loanee, who who only met his team mates in the dressing room, after being hurriedly signed for the big game to cover Ian Dunbavin’s injury, dealt with it well.
But moments later he was well beaten by recalled captain Mark Hudson’s powerful header, the Bluebirds captain only being denied by Liddle, who threw himself in front of the ball as it looked destined to cross the line.
Moments earlier Kal Naismith created the game’s first real chance as he fired a stinging shot in at Cardiff’s stand-in keeper Joe Lewis, which the ex Peterborough man spilled in the first instance before regathering with the hungry League Two strikers flying in for their moment of glory.
As the half wore on Stanley, who as well as missing their stalwart keeper, were without regulars Nicky Hunt, Dean Winnard and so often the scourge of Cardiff in his Watford and Sheffield Untied days Danny Webber, played their way into the game.
The crisis, which almost forced manager James Beattie, who registered himself as a player this week, to get his boots back on.
And how they could have done with him and the powerful Webber up top to give the experimental centre back partnership of Hudson and Kevin McNaughton a tough time on a difficult night in the north.
As it was, the team who have only mustered three goals in their four league games so far this season looked desperately short of an end product, when they needed one most.
In the second period the Premier League outfit took control of the game and opened the scoring through Nicky Maynard, who hammered a right footed shot home from the edge of the box after a poor clearance from the defence, who were faultless in the last round as they saw off Middlesbrough at the Riverside Stadium.
Then, barely a minute later, the small army of travelling fans, which included former goalkeeper Tom Heaton, who saved a Steven Gerrard penalty on the club’s last outing at Wembley, were singing about the prospect of a return this time around.
In truth, if they are to make another showpiece final, the Bluebirds will face tougher tests than this.
Mackay said: “It is tough to get drawn against a Premier League team but it could be an advantage to us that we’ve played them already this season.”
Stanley manager James Beattie said: “I am proud of the way the lads fought and had we taken some of our chances we could have been talking about a great night. My job now is to get my players playing like that in the league.