SCOTLAND goalkeeper David Marshall was the hero by saving twice in the penalty shoot-out as Cardiff City last night set up a Wembley showdown with Blackpool for the right to join the Barclays Premier League.
The Welsh club triumphed over a resilient Leicester City side thanks to shoot-out at the end of a rollercoaster play-off semi-final.
Trailing 1-0 from the first leg, Leicester found themselves with a mountain to climb when Michael Chopra doubled Cardiff's advantage.
But, aided by the unplayable Steve Howard, they fought back to take a 3-2 aggregate lead courtesy of Matty Fryatt, an own goal from Cardiff captain Mark Hudson and Andy King.
Yet, in a dramatic tussle to match that off Nottingham Forest and Blackpool the previous, Whittingham took the tie to extra time with his 25th of the season from the penalty spot.
A goalless extra period followed before Cardiff came out on top in a tense shootout after Marshall saved from Yann Kermorgant and Martyn Waghorn.
Bruno Berner, Steve Howard and Nolberto Solano had scored in the penalty shoot-out for the Foxes while Michael Chopra, Ross McCormack and Joe Ledley had kept their cool for Cardiff.
But Kermorgant was Leicester's villain as the French 28-year-old chose the wrong time to try a cheeky chip, Marshall standing tall to save.
Mark Kennedy fired in for Cardiff before Scottish international Marshall kept out Waghorn to leave Cardiff 90 minutes from the Premier League and an estimated 90m jackpot.
Cardiff, whose financial struggles have been well documented this season, are now one game away from their first return to the top flight since 1962 and becoming the first non-English team to participate in the Premier League.
Manager Dave Jones admitted earlier this week that promotion would be "life changing for everybody in south Wales" and his side are now just 90 minutes away from that. But plaudits must also go to Leicester, who battled back strongly when the game looked beyond them.
Welsh patriotism was aplenty prior to kick-off as a record home crowd tried to match the intimidating atmosphere of their former stomping ground Ninian Park.
The hosts were a class above their opponents in the opening quarter and it was just a matter of time before they found the net.
An unchallenged Bothroyd – who was immense throughout – flicked on a long ball from Stephen McPhail and Chopra lost his man with ease to race through and put through Chris Weale's legs.
Yet their lead was to last just three minutes as Fryatt latched onto Howard's header to volley past the despairing arm of Marshall and watch the ball roll slowly over the line.
And 11 minutes later Leicester had levelled on aggregate as Howard's flick-on from Alex Bruce's free-kick again caused problems and the ball bounced off Hudson's head and over a stranded Marshall.
The visitors found themselves in front for the first time in the tie four minutes after the restart when King headed home Paul Gallagher's cross.
With the next goal crucial chances came at either end, Whittingham clearing a goalmouth scramble off the line. And the Championship's top scorer soon proved his coolness in the opposite penalty area, converting a penalty after Chopra had been felled.
The woodwork came to the resuce for both teams before a dramatic 90 minutes was brought to a close.
Cardiff City: Marshall, McNaughton (Quinn 97), Hudson, Blake, Kennedy, Whittingham (McCormack 91), McPhail, Ledley, Burke (Etuhu 60), Chopra, Bothroyd. Subs Not Used: Enckelman, Gyepes, Capaldi, Wildig. Booked: Hudson, McPhail, Quinn.
Leicester City: Weale, Solano, Hobbs, Bruce, Berner, Dyer (Waghorn 72), King, Wellens, Gallagher (Spearing 72), Howard, Fryatt (Kermorgant 97). Subs Not Used: Logan, Morrison, N'Guessan, Vaughan. Booked: Dyer, Howard, King, Solano, Bruce, Wellens.