Cardiff 2 - 1 Stoke. Comment

Last updated : 27 February 2024 By Paul Evans

After we were taken apart by Norwich a week ago, I think any City fan asked what they’d be disappointed with from the two upcoming home matches would be lying if they replied that four points wouldn’t be good enough.


Yes, I know Blackburn and Stoke were among the four most out of form sides in the Championship along with bottom of the league Rotherham, but the fact of the matter is that we were the other one in that quartet.

Blackburn and Stoke would have been approaching their visit to Cardiff thinking “they always lose at home, we can definitely get three points there”, yet neither of them did.

The fact that Tuesdays grim goalless draw could actually be spun as some sort of step forward only goes to show how bad things had got, but a draw to follow on from three scoreless home games all lost by two goals or more did inch us a bit closer to that fifty point mark which, almost certainly, equals safety.

Yet, even if you accept that a draw on Tuesday did ease the pressure somewhat, I would say that it made three points today an essential. When I say that, I don’t mean that defeat would have made us relegation favourites or anything like that, more I don’t believe that another draw or worse would have led to any easing up on the feeling of negativity that had taken hold over the last month or so.

As it is, I feel today’s 2-1 win over a Stoke team that now drop into the bottom three after wins for five sides (and I’m not including us there!) that could definitely be thought of as relegation candidates should mean a less fraught week coming up for Erol Bulut, his players and the Tan/Dalman and Choo axis to endure. The win and the performance in gaining it was not convincing (I don’t just mean in terms of margin of victory there) enough to persuade many fans, myself included, that it’s all systems go from now – a defeat and a limp performance at Ashton Gate in the Severnside derby next weekend and it will probably feel as if Cardiff 2 Stoke 1 never happened.

That’s not really fair mind. Having watched the high quality Leeds v Leicester game last night, today’s match was distinctly ordinary by comparison, but, then again, you’re hardly comparing like with like are you – I’d say that this season, more than any other, has brought home what a huge, and unfair, advantage teams receiving parachute payments have when compared to the rest of the division – I say that as a fan of a team which has twice benefited from them.

Today’s game was no classic then, but it was better than Tuesday was and, although some who had not watched us at home in late December and January may have trouble believing this, Tuesday was better than what had been on offer in the previous three games at Cardiff City Stadium.

In fact, in the first half today it felt like it would have been quite a watchable game for a neutral as  the goal scored within just five minutes had the effect of opening things up and, when it came to City anyway, there was a rare feeling that our forward players may be better than their markers.

Erol Bulut reverted to a back four after finishing with a back six on Tuesday as our wingers were used more as full backs. Perry Ng came in for the unlucky Mahlon Romeo, who I thought had maybe his best game of the season so far against Blackburn and Jamilu Collins made way for Josh Wilson-Esbrand, while Joe Ralls was back in place of Ryan Wintle alongside Manolis Siopis.

The front four were the ones who fired blanks against Blackburn, but here, apart from Rubin Colwill who was a little way below his recent standards, they all offered an improvement on midweek.

In Kion Etete’s case mind, I didn’t think there was too much difference between what he did in the two games apart from the small matter of him ending his five month wait for a goal today.

There was no surprise in the goal coming from a set piece of course – this time it was a corner gained courtesy of a well struck Colwill shot from twenty five yards which got a half block that ensured the ball landed on top of the net.

Ralls took the corner towards the near post where it was flicked on, I think by Dimitrios Goutas, to Etete whose header from ten yards found the corner of the net. It wasn’t quite as straightforward as that makes it sound mind as Josh Bowler could be credited with an assist without touching the ball.

Bowler was stood no more than two yards off the line and his presence served to distract goalkeeper Daniel Iversen. Bowler did not get a touch on the ball, but with him being that close to the line, offside had to be a consideration.

Back in October, City were beaten 1-0 by Blackburn at Ewood Park and I thought they were robbed after referee Bobby Madley ruled out a goal by Goutas as he decided that Karlan Grant was offside and interfering with play despite him making no contact with the ball. I would say that Bowler interfered with play more today than Grant did a few months back with the question this time being was Bowler in an offside position? The pictures I’ve seen of the goal do not prove this conclusively either way.

So, having, maybe, got lucky, City, to their credit, went chasing a second goal and Bowler, enjoying having a makeshift left back in Jordan Thompson marking him, cut in to set up a decent shooting opportunity for Colwill from fifteen yards, but the resultant half hit left footer that Iversen saved easily was a disappointment from a player of Colwill’s capabilities.

City were having things their own way with the visitors looking every inch genuine relegation candidates, when, from nowhere, it really should have been 1-1 as Niall Ennis found himself in glorious isolation some twelve yards out, but dragged his shot wastefully across goal.

Strangely, Stoke seemed to take heart from this as they began to take a bigger share of possession and their wingers Manhoef and Junho began to cause problems

If Stoke’s big chance came against the run of play, the same could be said for City’s second goal. Just as with Bowler in the opening goal, City had a player who played a prominent part in the creation of the second goal while barely touching the ball. Colwill’s harrying caused Stoke to lose the ball around the halfway line and from there Siopis fed Ralls who played Grant in. Running in the inside left channel, the winger took the ball outside central defender Ben Willmott and shot powerfully into the opposite corner of the net, although his cause may have been helped by Iversen appearing to slip as he prepared to dive.

Grant was playing with a lot of confidence and he opened up the Stoke defence again to set up a chance for Ralls which was foiled by a desperate block, but it seemed that the West Brom loanee was injured in this move and he would eventually be withdrawn early in the second half – City’s attacking potency, such as it was, was greatly reduced with Grant’s departure.

Another goal before half time and City could have been on for only their second score of more than four goals in a game in more than a decade (thanks for that Eric!), but it was the visitors who got the game’s third one and after that it became a different match with City spending the majority of the second period more concerned with preserving their narrow lead than looking to add to it..

Ng needlessly fouled Junho leading to a free kick twenty yards out and Jacob Brown’s shot drew a good full length save from Ethan Horvarth, but the keeper was unlucky to see Junho react quickest to tap in from six yards.

The second half became a holding operation for City and, although the match stats suggest Stoke were unlucky not to get a draw (the visitors had more efforts at goal, more on target ones and more corners), it was good to see three of our January signings playing leading parts in our win. Apart from a tendency to find touch somewhere close to the dug outs in the second half, I thought Horvarth had a good game as he twice saved well from Ennis and foiled sub Josh Laurent, Wilson-Esbrand was up against a decent opponent, but handled the situation well while also putting over a lovely second half cross which was just crying out to be turned in and generally looking pretty effective going forward and Nat Phillips was, for the second consecutive match, probably our best player.

Predictably for this manager, his substitutions tended to be defensive ones and, once again, I found myself wondering why he names Joel Colwill and Cian Ashford in the squad when he clearly has no intention of using them?

City remain in fourteenth place and the good results for the likes of QPR, Sheffield Wednesday and Millwall means that they’ve not really moved further away from the relegation zone, but, with forty four points, you’d like to think that two wins from our last dozen matches will keep us up.

There was an entertaining preface to the Stoke match when the under 18s took on league leaders Bristol City at Leckwith at lunchtime. Goals by Will Spiers and Ronan Kpakio put us 2-0 with six minutes left only for the visitors to level things up with four minutes to got. Then, a minute into added time, Trey George came up with the winning goal to keep hopes of participating in the end of season Play Offs alive.