Cardiff midfielder Stephen McPhail brings down Swansea's Leon Britton
By Peter Shuttleworth
As Swansea City recover from their south Wales derby hangover, they will remember what happened to Cardiff at the end of last season.
The heartache the Bluebirds suffered last May is an emotion even they would not wish on their worst enemy.
Tears were shed on a forgettable final day of the season at Hillsborough as Cardiff surrendered the play-off place that had been theirs for virtually all of the season by losing 1-0 to Sheffield Wednesday.
Swansea have made the Championship's top six their own this season and Paulo Sousa's men have occupied a play-off place since before Christmas - but the Swans, like Cardiff last year, are in danger of being so near, yet so far.
Their 2-1 derby defeat in the first south Wales showpiece at the Cardiff City Stadium on Saturday extended their winless run to six games - their worst for six years -and the Swans are now anxiously looking over their shoulder with just a two-point play-off cushion.
Jones hails Cardiff goal threat
Swansea also end their campaign with back-to-back fixtures against potential rivals for a play-off place - Sheffield United and Doncaster.
So Sousa must revive his mentally-fatigued squad, who suffered the ultimate blow as Michael Chopra completed his double in the second minute of added time on Saturday evening to secure Cardiff's first derby win in nine games.
But the 59th south Wales showdown was a microcosm of the season for both rivals.
Swansea dominated territory and possession for long spells but exposed the lack of a cutting edge that makes them the lowest scorers in the division, as the lads from the Liberty could not penetrate a makeshift Bluebirds backline.
And their defence - the second-meanest in the division - could not save the Swans this time as Cardiff were, not for the first time this season, saved by their free-scoring strikers.
Peter Whittingham, Jay Bothroyd, Chris Burke and Chopra - who celebrated his 18th and 19th goals of the season on Saturday - have together scored almost twice as many goals as Swansea's entire squad have managed in the league this term.
"We lost out by one goal last season," said Cardiff boss Dave Jones. "So we're going all-out attack to get as many goals as we possibly can."
Swansea's lack of a killer instinct has been apparent all season but looked more dangerous against Cardiff when battering ram targetman Shefki Kuqi and the direct David Cotterrill replaced ineffective Gorka Pintado and Nathan Dyer.
Dyer, however, had previously looked Swansea's most potent attacking threat and it was Dutchman Cedric van der Gun who flattered to deceive.
Also, midfield dynamo Joe Allen's vision and passing range would be better utilised on the pitch, rather than on the bench.
Cardiff, on the other hand, have no such worries as Jones's men showed the character and fortitude to enjoy their late, late show in an evenly-contested clash.
Such ability to win when the team has not dominated is the sign of a side that is likely fulfil its ambitions.
Cardiff have faded dramatically in each of their last three seasons but Jones's team seemed to have learned from history as there are no signs of déjà vu from the boys in blue.
With an eight-point play-off cushion Cardiff hope a ticket to the top six lottery is now all but confirmed.
Wales' capital club have won five of their last six and are on their best run for three-and-a-half years - including back-to-back victories over two of their play-off rivals - driven by last season's heartbreak.
"We have to get into the play-offs otherwise we've under-achieved," insisted Cardiff midfielder Joe Ledley.
"We don't want to do the same as last season. We have great quality and, with the players we have, a repeat of last season should not happen."
Swansea 'dominated' claims Sousa
Cardiff striker Bothroyd admits "complacency" played a part in their downfall last season and insists the team are motivated by "not making the same mistake" again.
"We're a tight and very together squad who don't want to get carried away like we did last year," said Bothroyd.
"I can still remember the feeling of the play-off heartbreak and it was sickening to miss out by one goal. We were even more disappointed because we had been in the play-offs for most of the season.
"We faded through tiredness last year as the team virtually picked itself because of players out injured.
"The difference this season is we've had our injury problems and now key players like Stephen McPhail, Ross McCormack, Anthony Gerrard and Joe Ledley are gradually returning refreshed to help the play-off push and invigorate the squad."
Swansea must show great spirit to learn by Cardiff's mistakes or risk their play-off ambitions becoming dead and buried.
Cardiff, meanwhile, have exorcised their derby demons to celebrate their first win over Swansea for 13 years, now Jones's men will bid to bury their play-off ghosts.
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