Rotherham 5 - 2 Cardiff. Comment

Last updated : 05 May 2024 By Paul Evans

By any criteria, Rotherham United 23/24 have to be judged as one of the worst Championship sides of the twenty first century. Before today’s season ending game, they had won just four times in forty five, they’d not scored a goal in over a month and had not scored in ten of their last eleven matches. Rotherham had just twenty four points and had been relegated over a month ago.


Now, I know the final day of the season has a history of producing strange results and, in the grand scheme of things, what happens in game forty six is often virtually forgotten about by the time the next campaign gets underway, but, surely, all connected with Cardiff City should be ashamed by today’s result?

Losing 5-2 to a team with Rotherham’s record has to be one of Cardiff City’s most embarrassing results of this century and yet there was manager Erol Bulut at the end of it fist pumping the travelling support as if we’d been the ones that had scored five, when in reality, we could have let in seven or eight and been on the end of a five goal losing margin. 

However, this shouldn’t come as much of a surprise given how the club and the local media seem desperate for our manager to agree to prolong his stay at Cardiff and are set on insisting that the season has been some sort of triumph. 

Yes, I know we’ve ended up with quite a few more points and goals scored compared to last season, but, having watched our games since we beat Bristol City in late October, I’m clueless as to how we ended up with sixty two points and nineteen victories.

That Bristol game is significant also because it was the last time we won a game by more than a single goal margin – it is now thirty two games (thirty three if you also count the FA Cup game at Sheffield Wednesday) since we beat a team by two goals or more.

Similarly, the 1-0 home loss to Birmingham, who were relegated along with Huddersfield today, on 13 December in our twenty first league game means that it’s twenty five matches (twenty six including the 4-0 cup loss at Hillsborough) since we lost a game by less than two goals or more.

Such stats help to explain our ridiculous goal difference of minus seventeen for a team finishing in the top half of the table and why our fifty three goals scored is the joint lowest out of top half teams – four sides finishing below us scored more as well.

Conceding nine goals in our final two games took our goals against tally in the league to seventy (we also conceded twelve in our four cup games this season), only three teams (the bottom two, Rotherham and Huddersfield, and Blackburn) let in more. 

The stats just keep on coming. Much will be made of our nineteen wins being bettered by only Middlesbrough out of sides outside the top six no doubt and I’m not going to be churlish and deny credit where it’s due, but I think it’s fair to put it in the context of our twenty two defeats being only one less than last season and the third worst figure in this season’s Championship.

It’s always said that the table doesn’t lie at the end of the season and you can understand why when you consider that we’re talking about a sample size of forty six games here, but maybe it’s fair to say that all of those stats show that City have bent the truth somewhat over the last seven months or so in particular!

Yet, it would appear that the hierarchy at the club, including Vincent Tan it seems, wants Erol Bulut to extend his stay at the club and the Bulut friendly local media happily go along with such thinking.

It’s emerged in the last week that, certainly in recent times at least, the delay in sorting the managerial situation out is down to Erol Bulut seeking certain assurances from the club.

In the last of what are usually cosy pre game chats with the media for the season, Bulut talked of his wishes on the coaching and recruitment sides. To be honest, I think that’s fair enough as, compared to many of the other clubs at our level, we have seemed somewhat amateurish when it comes to the latter in particular.

Bulut is shrewd and polished when it comes to dealing with the media and, based on what I’ve heard, he puts his arguments over well, but, the way he’s been put on a pedestal by some as if he is some sort of huge step up from the managers we’ve had in recent years is strange. 

There’s no denying that Bulut’s record this season is pretty good if you use the league table compared to last year as your criteria, but what I don’t get is the acceptance by many that the climb up the table could only have been achieved by us playing the sort of cautious, dull and regimented football that we’ve seen for about eighty to ninety per cent of the campaign.

Today was I think typical Bulut in terms of selection and formation. Surely a final game of the season against an already relegated Rotherham with nothing riding on it was the time to ditch the cautious two sitters in front of the back four and try something different like, say a 4-1-4-1 or something incorporating two strikers, but, no, it was the same old 4-2-3-1 with Ryan Wintle and Manolis Siopis as the sitters. Bafflingly, these two stayed on until the eighty fifth minute when Siopis was withdrawn for Joel Colwill and there was the usual David Turnbull/Rubin Colwill exchange on seventy seven minutes when Rotherham had been 5-2 up for about ten minutes.

Two years ago, Steve Morison named Isaak Davies on the bench for our final game at Derby after he had missed matches through a hamstring strain and the young forward  promptly aggravated the injury within minutes and missed the opening weeks of the 22/23 season. Bulut appears to have got away with it today as he brought back Callum O’Dowda and, surprisingly, Mark McGuinness after weeks (months in the case of the latter) out with injuries. To be fair, McGuinness was not meant to come on, but a late concussion injury to Nat Phillips meant that we could make a sixth substitution.

As for the game, there were two Cardiff City’s out there. First of all, there was the usual plodding passing and movement that we’ve seen so much of this season and then there was the incisive and dynamic left sided play involving Ollie Tanner and Cian Ashford in the first half in particular.

I had a go at Tanner after his poor substitute appearance on the right wing against Millwall, but, since then he’s been used as a left back and, increasingly, I’m thinking it’s an experiment worth persevering with in the new season. Tanner seems to have more time in possession at left back and this has perhaps helped with his crossing and passing which seems so much better in recent games. 

Here, Tanner was our stand player, his passing was crisper and more imaginative than anyone else and in a woeful defensive showing, I thought he was the best defender in today’s back four.

Ashford did a few things wrong but was bright and sharp in general, while, again, his defensive work was better than nearly all of his team mates. Raheem Conte got a few minutes at right back and he and the Colwill brothers also did their bit to show that our younger players generally play at a quicker pace than their seniors with no obvious decline in the quality of their passing – quite the opposite in fact.

By contrast to Ashford, Josh Bowler was left trailing in the wake of Rotherham’s left sided attackers as they exploited two on ones against Mahlon Romeo to score first half goals through Jordan Hugill and Tom Eaves. In between those goals, Phillips scored his first goal for the club when he headed in a beautifully flighted Tanner free kick.

When Bowler and Ashford helped to set up Tanner for a deflected equaliser In the first few minutes of the second half, it felt like City were well placed to go on and win, but, just as at Millwall, they were poor in the second period with questions needing to be asked about the attitude of some (it was hardly the performance of a group of players bent on doing their bit to ensure their manager was still in charge come the new season) and they couldn’t have complained if it had finished 7-2 as Hugill hit the bar and a combination of Phillips and Ethan Horvath just about kept out Eaves.

As it was, Eaves scored from the spot after Turnbull was guilty of a trip (our manager used this decision to claim that ref Andy Davies had felt sorry for Rotherham, but it looked like the correct decision to me) and Sam Nombe scored the best goal of the game from the edge of the penalty area. 

Finally, the complete domination of the Rotherham striking pair over our centrebacks was shown as Eaves easily beat Dimi Goutas in the air to a long kick forward by ex City keeper Dillon Phillips and Nat Phillips’ back pass from the flick on was well short of Horvarth enabling Hugill to score easily.

All season long, the cry has been that our attack is the part of the team that needs most work done on it in the summer, but in recent weeks especially, our defending has fallen off a cliff – Phillips has looked a good player for most of his time here, but his combination with Goutas has been nowhere near as secure as Goutas and McGuinness were in the first half of the season.

My final word on the 23/24 first team season is to ask a question – if yesterday’s game against a long since relegated side with o truly appalling record had been played at Cardiff City Stadium, do you think Erol Bulut would have picked a more attacking line up and formation? After all, there was nothing on the game and I mentioned above examples of the sort of tactical tweaks he may have implemented – there could have been starts for the likes of Colwill junior and Conte and Dakarai Mafico, named on the bench for the first time for the senior team, could have been given a few minutes in midfield.

For me, the answer to that question seems obvious – no. It appears that, unless it’s a cup tie, where Bulut appears to be a kind of footballing demob happy mode with his tactics and selections, it’s just the same old thing time after time with this manager. 

Is there any reason to believe that a summer of recruiting, hopefully, better players will bring about a change to the way our manager sees the game – I don’t believe there is. 

It may have been all part of the shenanigans that you get when these sort of negotiations are ongoing, but there were reports that teams as big as Fiorentina and Besiktas were considering our manager for their Head Coach jobs. However, tellingly, there was then a later story that the Turkish club had distanced themselves from such speculation as they claimed that Bulut’s approach was too “conservative” for them – conservative is putting it mildly I think, but I completely get what they mean and that’s why I won’t be too bothered at all if we start 24/25 under new management.

There was a remarkable under 18 game in midweek as Mannie Barton (a new name to me) scored four and yet ended up in a team beaten by four goals! Barton’s final goal levelled their game at Millwall inside the last ten minutes, but such was the home team’s response to this, they ended up 8-4 winners to make it look like we’d been playing the Londoners at Rugby League.

It was far more mundane today at Leckwith as a single goal in the last minute by Harry Watts enabled the Academy team to beat Watford.