Three is the magic number for Malky

Malky Mackay is three games away from completing a remarkable promotion hat-trick - confident that he and his Watford team-mates can defy the doubters all the way to the Premiership.

Malky Mackay is three games away from completing a remarkable promotion hat-trick - confident that he and his Watford team-mates can defy the doubters all the way to the Premiership.

The Hornets, who clinched third place in the Coca-Cola Championship with Sunday's goalless draw against Hull, are preparing for a two-leg play-off semi-final battle with Crystal Palace.

And the former Norwich City defender goes into his third set of play-off matches in five seasons, insisting: “We're up there on merit and we're as good as any of them.”

Mackay, 34, was a major figure in the Canaries' Nationwide League title success two years ago, the highlight of a Carrow Road career that brought him 232 senior appearances and 17 goals. He then featured in the West Ham squad that went up through the play-offs last year.

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Now he bids for the treble with surprise package Watford, managed by former City assistant academy director Adrian Boothroyd.

“When I arrived at the club, there was a lot of negative press concerning Watford's chances,” said centre-half Mackay.

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“A lot of people said we were relegation favourites because we had a new, untried manager, a lot of experienced players had left and we had a lot of young players.

“But Adrian Boothroyd has been proved right in his beliefs about what we were capable of - people were expecting the bubble to burst but we've finished third in the league, made the plays-offs and shocked a lot of people.”

For Mackay, capped five times by Scotland, chasing promotion has become an annual event.

He skippered the Canaries in the play-off final against Birmingham in 2002, after his goals in the final league game against Stockport and in the semi-final, first leg against Wolves helped them to Cardiff, where they lost on penalties after a 1-1 draw.

The following season City narrowly missed a place in the top six, finishing eighth, but successive promotions followed for Mackay.

“It's fantastic for me. It's been a really nice time,” he said. “I know plenty of friends in the game who have been through relegation battles, or at clubs in trouble, facing pay cuts and not knowing if they're getting a job, so I've been fortunate in my career to have been with clubs who in the main have been challenging for promotion every year. I've been in the right place at the right time.

“It's very pleasing to be in another play-off semi-final. I have fond memories of when Norwich went through at Molineux and of being involved for West Ham in the semi-final against Ipswich last year, so I'm delighted that we're in this position.”

Watford visit Palace for the semi-final, first leg on Saturday, with the return at Vicarage Road next Tuesday night. The winners will play Preston or Leeds in the final on May 21.

But Mackay said Watford were not worried who they had to face.

He said: “Playing Palace will be no different to playing Leeds or Preston. Everyone has been asked who we wanted to play, but all three are of the same standard with similar strengths.

“You have to beat two out of the three teams to get promoted, but we're up there on merit and we are as good as any of them. We've been consistent.

“The young players at the club have handled things well all season and I don't think they will have any problems. There is a lot of pressure and hype surrounding these games but the players are protected from that.

“The manager has told us to remember that the semi-final is over 180 minutes and the end of the first leg is only half-time.”

If Watford do go up, Mackay will be hoping to chalk up another career first - after being transferred from both Norwich and West Ham without playing a Premiership game. City fans would dearly love him to get his chance this time.

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