Cardiff 0 - 2 Sunderland. Comment

Last updated : 31 March 2024 By Paul Evans

Picture the scene, a football team and its manager are embarrassingly turned over by local rivals in their biggest derby game of the season and have just short of a fortnight to work on getting the bad memories out of their system as they prepare for a home fixture against a team that have just ended a run of six straight defeats with a dismal goalless draw at home to a side that has been in the bottom three for most of the season.


Yes, the season is over in terms of promotion or relegation, but this is a chance to get fans onside again. After all, before their no show for the derby game, hadn’t they put together four wins on the trot with the last of them being hailed as their best performance of the season?

Indeed, there were rumours that the players were being fed raw meat in the days leading up to the game which was going to put right the wrongs of the derby day humiliation.

Sunderland, for it was they who were the unfortunates cowering in wait for caged animals to be unleashed on them at three o clock on the day of a religious festival, must have been shaking in their boots as the minutes ticked by………………

Sorry, I can’t keep this up any longer, it was, of course, Erol Bulut and his Cardiff City side that were the “caged animals”, so anyone who has followed what’s been going on at City since the end of October will have a fair idea of what happened (the caged animals turned out to be a mixture of timid kittens and clumsy puppies), but, for any City watchers who, for whatever reason, did not get to watch today’s action, I have to tell you that it was definitely worse than you can possibly imagine.

Anyone attempting to list, say, City’s five worst performances of this season has a difficult task because, to my mind, there is so much competition for a place in the hallowed quintet. Without thinking about it too much, I can come up with QPR home, West Brom home, Hull away, Millwall, Birmingham, Leicester and Leeds home, Plymouth away, Preston home, Norwich away, Blackburn  and Huddersfield home and Swansea away, but today things moved on to a new level and Sunderland at home has to be installed at number one.

It wasn’t quite breaking the habits of a lifetime, but City’s positive start three weeks ago against the team that leads the Championship as I type this was highly unusual and, as far as this season goes, I can only think of the start we made to our biggest win, at Huddersfield, to rival it.

We couldn’t match the start we made against Ipswich today, but the opening ten minutes was clearly our best period of the game as we made Sunderland look like a team with such an awful recent record by pushing them back with some well constructed attacks, one of which ended with Josh Bowler shooting into the side netting.

The game changed in the twelfth minute though when Dimitrios Goutas made the first of what were many mistakes in what was his worst display in a City shirt by a distance. Goutas was immense in our win at Sunderland back in September and I’d rate him as a realistic contender for our Player of the Season award, but, today he was an accident waiting to happen and it was his concession of the ball in a dangerous area which eventually ended with a penalty being given against him for a push on Jobe Bellingham.

In Goutas’ defence, it was a very poor decision by referee Jeremy Simpson. While Goutas did make a pushing movement towards Bellingham and there was some contact made, it was very faint. I suppose it was a correct decision by the strictest interpretation of the laws, but the whole thing becomes farcical when Simpson, just like any other modern day referee, lets far more obvious fouls by defenders and attackers alike at set pieces go unpunished – Goutas was clearly grabbed by Sunderland captain Luke O’Nien at two of City’s first three corners and these days it’s obvious that there are two completely contrasting interpretations being followed in the same penalty area depending on whether any incident happens in open play or during a set piece.

Goutas was hard done by then, but it was difficult to be that sympathetic towards him because it was his blunder that led to the concession of the penalty.

I should really know this, but I believe Nat Phillips has been playing left centreback since his arrival on loan from Liverpool, but today it was definitely Goutas on the left as I was reminded that he’d made an uncomfortable start to his City career and it was only when Mark McGuinness switched to the left and Goutas to the right that the Greek international began to improve.

So, If I am right in thinking that our centre backs switched positions today, I’m at a loss to even attempt to suggest why they did. Suffice it to say that the left hand side of our defence was a shambles in the first half especially. Josh Wilson-Esbrand had been doing well at left back during our winning run, but he was one of those who wilted at Swansea and he struggled today before being one of two players to be taken off at half time.

Adil Aouchiche shot high up into the same net that Dan James failed to find with his penalty on Tuesday and from there, the match became like a repeat of the game with Preston about six weeks ago, but worse. On that day, City had made what might well have been their second best start to a home league game this season, but then fell apart completely as soon as they went 1-0 down – Preston got a second before half time and spent the rest of the game holding on to their lead ever so comfortably as we failed to mount a worthwhile response in the last sixty minutes.

At least against Preston it looked like the players were trying, but after today’s match Bulut had to answer questions about whether City were, to use the cliché, “already on the beach”? Sunderland winning what seemed like six or seven consecutive fifty/fifty balls during a particularly scrappy phase of first half play probably prompted such questions – the truth was that, while they were more than two goals better than us, Sunderland were hardly brilliant themselves, but then opponents don’t need to be to comfortably beat Bulut’s Cardiff on one of their increasingly frequent bad days..

Sunderland soon added a second as Joe Ralls, a player who’s had a better season this time around, but the new contract he recently signed looked like a mistake on this evidence, missed a through pass and Aouchiche crossed for Bellingham to score easily from six yards out.

Actually, the second goal was overdue as Sunderland, getting in down our left at will, had already forced saves out of Ethan Horvarth through the sixteen year old Chris Rigg and Abdoullah Ba.

Readers of this blog will know that I champion the causes of City’s younger players, so you’d expect me to be all in favour of Sunderland’s approach which saw them field the Championship’s youngest ever team at Southampton recently, but I think they’ve got it all wrong and have paid with a season that has been well below their capabilities. You need a balance between youth and experience and while City have a manager who sets the balance far too much in favour of experience, Sunderland have got it wrong by going to the other extreme.

Nevertheless, I’m sure if I’d have been a neutral I would have enjoyed Sunderland’s quicksilver youngsters exposing the limitations of Bulut’s plodding twenty nine year olds (I know all of our team aren’t that age, but I think it’s our manager’s dream to have ten outfield players of that vintage who all work terribly hard when we’re not in possession – as for what they do when they have the ball, he can sort that out later). As it was, for the second consecutive match, I felt embarrassed watching my team play.

Talking of working hard without the ball, there’s no prizes for guessing who also made way at half time with Wilson-Esbrand. Yes, it was Rubin Colwill of course. Now, I should say that Colwill was poor today, but, apart from Horvarth and, maybe, Callum O’Dowda, he was no worse than anyone else – it was just typical Bulut that it was the two youngest players in his team of limited huff and puff merchants who had to be sacrificed (completely predictably, there was no sign of the youngsters who were supposed to be getting their chance once we’d reached the nothing to play for stage either).

Aaron Ramsey and Famara Diedhiou were brought on for the second half and if anything, City got worse. There were cries for a penalty when Karlan Grant went down as Sunderland got in a mess while trying to play out from the back (I didn’t think it was one) and Goutas had a header from a corner that glanced off the top of the crossbar, but that was as nothing compared to the string of chances Sunderland had. In truth, we should have suffered our heaviest defeat of the season, but a combination of some good saves by Horvarth and Sunderland getting careless because it was all so easy for them, kept the score at 2-0.

Therefore, Sunderland probably become the latest of what I suspect is quite a large number of teams saying Cardiff are the worst side we have faced this season after an encounter with us, yet, at the same time, I’ve watched a stream this week which nominated City as the Championship’s biggest over achievers.

How do you reconcile those two things? I’ve not a clue, but I think they’re both probably true. What I’m more sure of mind, is that we’re no better than the poor City teams of the previous two seasons when it comes to the things that got all of us interested in the game when we were children. You know, the things we saw footballers do with the ball to get us up out of our seats, Bulut’s Cardiff are a really hard watch and they’re the latest of many City teams of the Tan era that don’t seem to know any other way to win than ugly.