Mackay, who was lured to Cardiff from Watford in the summer, has enjoyed an impressive first season in charge of the Welsh club, guiding his team to promotion contention in the Championship and spurring them on to their fairytale cup run which has seen them beat Oxford United, Huddersfield, Leicester, Burnley, Blackburn and Crystal Palace to reach the final.
Mackay is confident he can pick a team capable of not freezing against a Liverpool side who have found their form again in recent weeks, and despite his massive respect for Dalglish he is relishing the challenge of trying to tactically outfox the Anfield legend.
“It’s a massive test on Sunday that’s without a doubt,” said Mackay. “Kenny has instilled a passion back into Liverpool again – he’s someone who’s synonymous with the football club.
“I read his autobiography a while ago and even when he was asked to come back by Rafael Benitez as an ambassador and to help out with the club’s academy, you could sense how proud that made him feel. It was as if he was coming home again. He’s not just the manager of the club, it has been half his life, more than that, since he left Celtic.
“You are talking about someone who cares deeply about his club as do I about mine – both of us are passionate about football. He’s got an awful lot of experience in the game and he has some top quality footballers. But that’s his side of it – I have my side of it and we will concentrate on having the right gameplan to go and win this competition.”
The Welsh club’s past two trips to Wembley have not had a happy ending. The Bluebirds lost to Portsmouth in the 2008 FA Cup final then returned to the stadium two years later to lose out on promotion to the Premier League as a Charlie-Adam inspired Blackpool edged them 3-2 in a dramatic play-off final.
Adam will be in the Liverpool ranks tomorrow, but Cardiff’s side is barely recognisable from the one that lost to Blackpool, although Kevin McNaughton and David Marshall are among the smattering of survivors. Their new-look side contains several fellow Scots who have flourished under Mackay, with top scorer Kenny Miller heading the colony of exiles, along with Don Cowie and Craig Conway. Marshall, however, is likely to make way for cup specialist Tom Heaton – the hero of their semi-final win over Palace – if the back-up goalkeeper recovers from an ankle knock.
Midfielder Peter Whittingham believes it is time for the club to make amends for their previous Wembley heartaches. The 27-year-old is in his sixth season at Cardiff and was involved in their two most recent appearances in a Wembley final. Whittingham has no desire to go through those experiences again, and is determined to make it third time lucky as Mackay’s side look to shock the Merseyside giants.
“Going to Wembley has not been too nice to us, obviously we lost to Blackpool in the play-off final so this is a good time to put things right and it’s something we think we can do,” Whittingham said. “That defeat was absolutely devastating, especially seeing Blackpool playing in the Premier League, that was horrible. It was the last game of the season and it was all you could think about for the next two months and it’s something we want to put right.
“After all the hype it is good that the game is coming up and we want to do ourselves proud. It’s a one-off game, league form goes out the window, it’s a welcome distraction and we go to Wembley with not so much pressure on us to try and do well.” Whittingham admits that defeat to the Seasiders and last season’s play-off semi-final reverse to Reading left him considering a move away from Cardiff. But he revealed how speaking to Mackay, who has been handed a new three-and-a-half year contract, convinced him to stay on.
He said: “Last summer was difficult. Seeing Michael Chopra, Jay Bothroyd, Chris Burke and Craig Bellamy leave, but I spoke to the gaffer and he made the promise we would go for promotion again and we have. There were a couple of offers kicking about but once I spoke to the manager I wanted to stay.”
Whittingham, who may lead Cardiff out at Wembley should Mark Hudson fail a late fitness test, will go head-to-head with Steven Gerrard in midfield. “I have always enjoyed playing against really good players and hopefully I can step up to the plate,” he said. “We have to ride our luck, they will have chances but when we have ours we have to take them. Kenny [Miller] has scored some important goals and it would not surprise anyone if he scored on Sunday.”