Cardiff 1 - 4 Middlesbrough. Comment

Last updated : 30 April 2024 By Paul Evans

Following the very good win over Southampton seven days ago, it’s been a week where those who want Cardiff City manager Erol Bulut to stay in the job for next season have been able to put their case almost unopposed.


Straight after the Southampton match, Bulut was serenaded by choruses of “we want you to stay” as he and his team took the plaudits for what I reckon was our best home win of the season. The Monday night podcast that I’m in the habit of listening to has been anti Bulut for most of 2024, but this time the four man panel was split on what City should next, but this was as of nothing compared to what Wales Online were pumping out as their readership were told it would be “madness” to get rid of Erol Bulut.

Rightly or wrongly (probably rightly), the feeling has grown that the responsibility for the uncertainty over what’s going to happen next regarding the manager lies with Vincent Tan. The perception is that Bulut is very much Chairman Mehmet Dalman’s man and the owner had to be  persuaded into the appointment – the season is now all but completed and the fact that we still don’t know whether the Bulut experiment is to be continued suggests that Mr Tan was reluctantly persuaded.

It’s clear that a substantial proportion of City fans want Bulut to stay, but someone unfamiliar with the workings of the club could be forgiven for believing that they amount to an overwhelming majority if they were to go by what’s been sung, said and written on the subject in the past seven days.

If, like me, you do not want to see Erol Bulut stay, it’s been a week to maybe keep schtum while realising that, even if you might be in the minority (there’s no real evidence on this either way mind), it is, in all likelihood, a large minority.

Ill willingly admit that there is one big reason that the Bulut to stay camp can build their case on and I don’t have too much to argue back with – we are going to finish around ten points and ten places better off than we did last season.

I heard a discussion on the radio last week on the subject of at what age you are classed as “old”? The best answer I heard was the jokey it’s always five years older than you are, but, as someone who very often feels every one of my sixty eight years old, it was reassuring to hear that there were those who said I still have seven, or maybe even twelve, years to go before I should consider myself old!

Anyway, that digression is a prelude to me saying you know you’re getting old when a football season seems to whizz by in almost the blink of an eye. It really does feel like only yesterday when I was reading predictions that tended to put us in eighteenth (our normal predicted finish in recent seasons) or worse – I can’t remember a pre season since we returned to this level twenty one years ago when so many pundits had us finishing in the bottom three. For myself, I thought eighteenth wasn’t going to be too far out – I’d make encouraging noises about a top half finish, but wouldn’t really believe it, So, to finish no lower than twelfth is an achievement, no doubt about it.

Up to now, I’ve concentrated on opinions voiced locally, but if the subject has come up on the national podcasts and You Tube videos about the Championship I take in, there is an air of incredulity at the managerial situation being dragged out like it is – the uniform view is that Bulut should be Cardiff manager going into 24/25.

However, I really don’t believe it’s as straightforward as that. I’ve said before on here that the nature of the football played by City over the past decade or so has made me change the way I support my team. Maybe it was because I spent the first twelve years or so of this century watching largely successful City teams playing a pretty entertaining brand of football that my attitude became even more that the result was everything than it had been previously – I was taking the entertainment factor for granted, why wouldn’t I when players like Earnie, Kav, Koumas, Whittingham, Chopra, Bothroyd and Burke were performing for my team?

I always used to say that no matter how dull the game, Whitts would still do something in it which would have me purring. This was the first inkling of something that has become more profound with me as the years of attritional, defensive, physical and direct football mounted up – the result is no longer everything, I want some entertainment, some signs as to why football is called the beautiful game.

Erol Bulut’s City side do not provide that. To be fair to him, the old long ball approach is all but gone now, but,  for every Ipswich and Southampton, there have been four Leeds or Birminghams at home this season, we have been so dull to watch, particularly at home. 

Today was our final home match and, in line with the theme of improvement, we end the season with a better home record than we had in the preceding three. Unfortunately, that is more a commentary on how bad we were between 2021 and 2023 – it’s tempting, but not quite true, to say that only at Cardiff could ten home defeats and thirty two home goals conceded be viewed as an upturn!

I might go into the freakish nature of some of City’s stats for this season next week, but what I think they say is that is that, top half finish or not, the improvements we need to make to become genuine top six challengers are far greater than the amount that would have to go wrong for us to plunged back into a relegation struggle – we win, but it’s always by a single goal margin and when we lose, it’s by two or more.

The football under Erol Bulut has been deadly dull for most of the time and I would argue that the improvement this season has tended to be built on sand. 

I’m not going to go into any detail on today’s match – I thought 4-1 was very harsh on us as, rarely for City, we had quite a few chances and after a season where our strikers have been blamed for many of our woes for not scoring goals when barely any opportunities were being created for them, Turnbull, Goutas, twice, Ashford and Robinson all missed decent chances of varying difficulty.

Middlesbrough were largely in careless, end of season mood for much of the first half, but they’re are a confident side who are finishing the season well whereas it’s tended to be one step forward and two back with City since October. Middlesbrough are also used to scoring goals and the difference in finishing quality between the teams today was marked.

I’d say today confirmed a feeling I’ve had for a while – Erol Bulut may have improved various aspects of our game compared to last season, but I think the 22/23 strugglers were better defensively than this team – Middlesbrough wouldn’t have scored four against last season’s defence.

The first Middlesbrough goal came just before half time when Famala Diedhiou lost his man, Matt Clarke, from a free kick and the defender scored via the underside of the bar. Middlesbrough then scored at will in the early minutes of the second half as a series of weak challenges allowed Finn Azaz to make it 2-0 from close range, then Josh Bowler lost possession cheaply and a long ball over the top enabled the in form Emanuelle Latte Lath to out sprint Nat Phillips and score easily. 

All three goals could have been defended a lot better, but Alex Gilbert’s strike from the edge of the area to make it 4-0 was a quality effort.

 Middlesbrough rather sat back after that and City spent the last half an hour seeking consolation goals with one arriving in added time when goalkeeper Seny Dieng, who made fine saves to deny Turnbull and Goutas, presented the ball to Callum Robinson and he crossed for Josh Bowler to roll into an empty net.

Looking for positives from the game, I’d say it was all but impossible to blame the younger players who’ve been given a chance in the last two games for what went wrong – the main damage had been done by the time most of them got oe the pitch. The exception was Cian Ashford who started the game on the left and after playing like a normal winger for much of the Southampton game, was more of a Bulut winger this time (i.e. he spent about eighty per cent of the time behind the ball). It was maybe a dose of reality after last week for Ashford, but there were still a few signs that he has the ability to play much more first team football for the club.

As for the others, both Lucy Giles and Raheem Conte repeated the positive impression they had given on their debuts the previous weekend, with the former looking unflustered in his play on the left and the latter adding things at right back in an attacking sense that his seniors in the position Perry Ng (voted Player of the season for the second year on the trot last night) and Mahlon Romeo struggle to provide.

There was also an overdue league debut for Joel Colwill who was brought on at 3-0 down with about thirty five minutes to play. Unfortunately, Joel’s elder brother was absent through injury and so we’ll have to wait a bit longer for the two of them to be on the pitch at the same time in a league match, but on yesterday’s evidence, it will happen eventually – Joel coming on didn’t represent a step down in quality in City’s midfield, quite the opposite really, as City were able to.