Plymouth 3 - 1 Cardiff. Comment

Last updated : 21 January 2024 By Paul Evans

Remember how the month of November was always dreadfully bad under Dave Jones? It almost became a joke as team after team under “the surly scouser” would start like a train through August, September and October and then hit the buffers when Halloween and Guy Fawkes night arrived – I remember checking and the November dip was often there in Jones’ time as Stockport, Southampton and Wolves boss as well.


Now it would appear Cardiff may well have another cursed month, but this time, it won’t disappear with a change of manager. In fact, it will only become worse, because, after tonight’s interview with Erol Bulut in the aftermath of a 3-1 loss at Plymouth, shock waves will have been sent through the club – January is in serious danger of becoming the new month to dread for City.

Back in January 2021, Neil Harris was sacked with City in a similar position to the one they find themselves in now (in mid table, but very much on a downward trajectory). Harris’ successor, Mick McCarthy steadied things in the short term as City made it into the Play Off positions for a while, but things deteriorated so badly that McCarthy did not get to celebrate a year in the job. Instead, Steve Morison was in charge and fighting a relegation battle in January 2022 only for some effective signings in January to help us secure safety.

2022 was the exception to the January rule, because having got rid of Morison in the autumn, Vincent Tan sacked his successor Mark Hudson in January 2023 with City on a long run of matches without a win. After a short stint in charge for Dean Whitehead as caretaker manager, Sabri Lamouchi took charge, but, although we eventually stumbled to safety under the Frenchman, he couldn’t stop us entering February without a win since early November after another nightmare January for City.

This time around, there have been clues that all has not been well in the club/manager relationship throughout this month, Erol Bulut had talked through part of November and all of December about the need for signings to be made in January. In fact, to hear him talk, he thought there was every chance we would be making signings very early in the month – he was also remarkably open when talking of the club’s interest in Kieffer Moore and I think it’s fair to say that many City fans were thinking that Moore would have been with us early enough to have made his second “debut” for the club last weekend against Leeds.

I think our manager was being naïve there, it might be different in Turkey, but signings in January tend to be made as the month is ending, not at its beginning.

 Now, it needs to be said that the feeling that Moore was as good as signed already did not arise because of what the manager said. There were “in the know” merchants on social media telling us the deal had been done from around the time the summer transfer window closed at the end of August, but Bulut’s willingness to talk so openly about Moore did tend to give the claims of those making out they were in the loop more credibility.

When no one, let alone Moore, turned up before the Leeds game, was it just coincidence that Erol Bulut decided to bring up the subject of his one year rolling contract in the pre match media conference? The manager told the assembled hacks that he had not been offered an extension on his contract yet, while appearing to hint that he may not sign it anyway (that’s how it seemed to me at least).

When the team folded in falling to an emphatic 3-0 home defeat by Leeds with some fans claiming the team had not been trying, the following day or two saw stories appearing online that fears of breaking what I still call Financial Fair Play rules were behind the lack of new arrivals during the transfer window.

This prompted the club to respond through a statement issued by the Supporters’ Trust that there was no truth to these claims and that there should be transfer business, both incoming and outgoing, by the end of the week.

Well, there certainly have been outgoings aplenty with Ike Ugbo and Jonathan Panzo having their loans cancelled and no end of youngsters leaving on loan during the last few days. It all had the feel of a clearing of the decks to help finance the arrival of new players, but they still resolutely fail to turn up.

Just before I get to what Erol Bulut said today, I’ll mention that a City video podcast streamed in midweek had the presenter, who emphasised how much he disliked “in the know shit”, claiming that he’d been told by someone he completely trusted that relations between the team and manager were very poor.

I make no comment on such a claim except to say that there have been times in our last two matches where we have looked a bit like a side that was no longer fully in tune with their manager.

It needs to be remembered though that we’ve been playing really poorly when compared to the first third of the season in the last two months and we’re getting worse, so that could be the explanation as to why it has sometimes looked like the team wasn’t trying.

Anyway, on to what our manager had to say. Here’s a link to it and, although I’m aware of the risk of over dramatising things, I have to wonder whether a manager/club relationship can survive such things – that’s assuming that Erol Bulut is minded to stay.

Under different circumstances, I think what Bulut said could be put down to frustration at a bad defeat for his team in a game which they were bossing in the first half for a very short while. However, there is all of the stuff that has been said in recent weeks leading up to today’s words from Mr Bulut to consider as well. More than that though, we have a Chairman who has said on more than one occasion that there is really only one decision maker at the club and that is the owner. Vincent Tan sanctioned the appointment of Erol Bulut, but he is very much Mehmet Dalman’s pick, so you have to wonder whether Tan has ever offered unconditional support for Bulut or whether there are some reservations there?

From my point of view, I would say that if Vincent Tan really does watch all of our games and if he has acquired a decent knowledge of the game over the last decade and more through doing so, I would not argue with him much if he thinks that we’ve looked absolutely nothing like a Play Off team for months and our recent performances suggest that he would have to spend a lot more during January to turn us into a team with a decent chance of finishing in the top six.

Furthermore, let’s be honest, the top four sides in this season’s Championship look to be a lot better than the rest, so, in truth, it’s only really one, or maybe two places up for grabs for the dozen or so sides that still dream of extending their season beyond early May. So, even if City were to somehow squeeze into a fifth or sixth place finish, they would have little chance of going up or even reaching the Play Off Final.

Therefore, can you criticise Vincent Tan for, perhaps, believing that there’s little point pushing the boat out when it comes to the January window and that we will, in all likelihood, see the rest of the season out content that we’ll be in the Championship next season – even if the nature of our last couple of performances means that the thought of relegation cannot wholly be dismissed.

What I would say mind is that it’s getting hard to see what the plan is with Vincent Tan, his club is drifting along, but it is drifting towards the edge of a huge waterfall – we look like staying up this season, but we’re being run like a club that will go down eventually. He is acting like an owner who is looking to sell up, but he must know that his club is not looking like an attractive proposition just now. To get people interested in a possible take over of his club, Tan is surely going to have to speculate to accumulate a little?

Moving on to the game, the first thing I’ll say is that I spent much of the first half trying to figure out what system we were playing. On the left we had Ollie Tanner taking the throw ins (a sure sign that he was playing full back or wing back) and given how much Jamilu Collins was coming inside, as well as pushing forward at times, it seemed to me as if he was one of three centre backs with the usual pairing of Mark McGuinness and Dimitrios Goutas.

However, it was on the right that it was hardest to tell what was going on as Perry Ng was the full back/wing back if you applied the throw in test, but he was spending much of the time playing in front of Rubin Colwill who looked like he was playing as a right sided midfielder in a 4-4-2.

If I had to guess what we were doing, I’d say it was a back three with wing backs with a right sided midfielder, two central midfielders in Ryan Wintle and Andy Rinomhota and Karlan Grant playing as a second forward supporting Yakou Meite.

The fact that I may be completely wrong in that opinion shows how confused I was, but I wasn’t the only one – Plymouth were baffled by what we were doing for a while as well.

The Colwill/Ng partnership was to the fore in an attacking sense early on and with Meite proving a bit of a handful and Wintle showing up well, we were supporting my theory that we play better away than we do at home these days and we deserved to be ahead after a first quarter that we dominated.

As is too often the case, this superiority was not manifesting itself in chances created in open play, but at least we had a set piece goal as home centre back Phillips made a right mess of dealing with Wintle’s corner and the ball fell to Ng who hooked in from five yards.

For ten minutes or so after that, City knocked the ball around in pleasing style, but there was no end product and once Plymouth had worked out how to deal with our strange formation, we had nothing to offer in an attacking sense apart from an odd thirty seconds or so in the second half when sub Josh Bowler had a shot blocked as we messed up a three on two and then when another sub Kion Etete set up Bowler again his shot was saved this time by keeper Conor Hazard who then tipped over Collins’ bouncing bomb shot from the rebound..

Going back to the first half, I mentioned that the Colwill/Ng partnership was working well going forward, but it was impossible to see what the plan was when they had to defend- or whether there was a plan at all.

All game long there was a yawning gap down our right in the defensive third which often saw Goutas forced to come out and take on what was almost a full back role = needless to say, Plymouth exploited what looked to me to be a shambles.

For the equaliser, Ng was left with two players to look after and when the cross came over, the impressive Ryan Hardie got free of Goutas to score easily from eight yards.

It was 1-1 at half time, but the story was of increasing Plymouth control and, after, Bulut replaced Tanner with Mahlon Romeo, City paid for another one of their too frequent dozy second half starts by conceding a shocking second goal.

Romeo took over in the role Ng had played in the first half with the ex Crewe man becoming the right sided member of the back three, while Collins became the left wing back, but, if Plymouth were the ones who were confused first time around, it looked like we were this time.

Colwill started things by carelessly losing possession around the half way line and the home team moved the ball to their right where a cross was eventually put in to Hardie who turned Goutas too easily and hit a shot which, although well hit, was straight at Jak Alnwick who added to the catalogue of errors by not dealing with it well enough as the ball burst through him and into the net.

After that, the brief period when City could have scored three times apart, it was just a question of how many Plymouth would win by. As it was, they scored once more with a crisp and effective counter attack, which would have been well beyond our capabilities, that ended with Morgan Whittaker receiving Hardie’s pass to score from just inside the penalty area.

I’ll finish on the game by lamenting Bulut’s non use of substitutes. We were told that a mixture of injuries, sickness and African Nations Cup call ups meant that we only had fifteen senior players available and that the other places on the bench would have to be taken up by kids from the under 21s. In the event, it wasn’t quite as bad as that and it was only Joel Colwill and Cian Ashford (who signed a contract extension until 2027 yesterday), who were on the bench for the previous two matches, plus Raheem Conte, a midfielder/winger signed from QPR in 2022, who were needed.

It goes without saying of course that none of these three were brought on, yet Bulut has been happy enough to use the younger Colwill and Ashford in cup ties all through this season, when it comes to league games though they may as well not be there – Bulut’s never going to use them, despite a level of performance from the seniors that has just not been good enough in recent games.

So, our nine substitutes were effectively just six, only three of whom the manager chose to use despite us being overrun at times in the second half. We were told Manolis Siopis had been affected by the sickness which has hit the City camp in the past fortnight, but he was considered fit enough to be a substitute, so why wasn’t he used?

While the first team is imploding, the under 18s sail serenely on. Well, maybe serenely isn’t the right word to use about today’s 5-2 win over Bournemouth which saw both sides reduced to ten after what was described as “a mighty scuffle” between the teams which saw coaches from either side come on to the pitch to try and calm things down. Jac Thomas was the City player dismissed with his side holding a 4-2 lead at the time. City were 3-0 up at half time thanks to goals by Jake Davies, Trey George and Joseff Edwards. Louis Phillips got a fourth before the visitors hit back with two quick goals, but George made sure of the win late on from the penalty spot.