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December downturn undermines Cardiff's promising start - Interview
Sunday, 31st Dec 2023 13:58 by Clive Whittingham

Erol Bulut's surprisingly good start to life as Cardiff manager had them on the cusp of the early play-off picture, but results and performances have taken a significant downturn in December according to our man Phil Bushby.

How has the season gone for Cardiff?

Pretty well until December. For no apparent reason a team that looked like it could comfortably make the playoffs started playing badly. Even when we were winning, the quality of football was terrible. Example of the 1-0 victory at home to Millwall - the first half was one of the worst/most boring that I have ever watched. We have been getting some fairly decent results, such as the comeback wins away at Sheff Wed and Preston, but on the whole not great over the past month or so.

Cardiff in the league so far…
Leeds 2-2 Cardiff Cooper 49, Summerville 90 – Bowler 23, Ugbo 39
Cardiff 1-2 QPR Ugbo 78 – Armstrong 34, Paal 65
Leicester 2-1 Cardiff Madivadua 36, Casadei 90 – Ramsey 45
Cardiff 2-1 Sheff Wed Ugbo 48, Wintle pen 90 – Bannan 76
Ipswich 3-2 Cardiff Broadhead 59, Ladapo 68, 78 – Ramsey 30, Ralls 52
Cardiff 2-0 Swansea Tanner 71, Ramsey pen 86
Cardiff 3-2 Coventry Goutas 8, Grant 61, Etete 84 – Godden 35, 90
Sunderland 0-1 Cardiff McGuinness 87
Cardiff 2-0 Rotherham Etete 56, Ng 90
Middlesbrough 2-0 Cardiff Jones 56, Lath 84
Cardiff 1-1 Watford McGuinness 24 – Bayo 54
Blackburn 1-0 Cardiff Rankin-Costello 53
Huddersfield 0-4 Cardiff Pearson og 2, Goutas 12, Meite 43, Ng 55
Cardiff 2-0 Bristol City Ng 33, Colwill 90
Stoke 0-0 Cardiff
Cardiff 2-3 Norwich Bowler 39, Robinson 43 – Fassnacht 22, Wintle og 82, Idah 84
Preston 1-2 Cardiff Osmajic 48 – Ugbo 90, Grant 90
Cardiff 0-1 West Brom Sarmiento 50
Southampton 2-0 Cardiff Armstrong 11, 15
Cardiff 1-0 Millwall Goutas 78
Cardiff 0-1 Birmingham Bacuna 45
Hull 3-0 Cardiff Connolly 32, Twine 56, Tufan 59
Sheff Wed 1-2 Cardiff Musaba 28 – Grant 74, Famewo og 88
Cardiff 2-2 Plymouth Butcher og 31, Grant 47 – Whittaker 17, 66
Cardiff 0-2 Leicester Dewsbury-Hall 18, Justin 55

I’ve been quite impressed with the manager, what’s the consensus on him, how’s he doing, what’s he changed?

I have been quite impressed with him as well. He has brought some stability to the team and has done well to strengthen the squad especially when he was not allowed to pay a transfer fee in the summer. Hopefully he can bring in some more quality when we has some money to spend next month.

He has changed style and formation. We are not the long ball team, we were under Warnock but equally not a pass-pass-pass team - there seems to be a purpose about the play (well there was until the end of November!). He generally goes for four at the back and those four (Goutas, McGuiness, NG and Collins) have been pretty good and will pick themselves (barring injury) for the QPR match. We will go for in two in the middle with one of these being Siopis and the other being Ralls or Wintle. Two wide players with a traditional nine and ten would complete the line up.

Bulut is not beyond criticism though - he will make some strange subs. Example being the last match v Plymouth. We looked in control at 2-1 and he brought off our best player on the day (Colwill) and moved Grant to the middle, breaking a strong partnership on the left with Collins. Plymouth equalised not long after that.

Not quite such a hot run of results coming into this game, particularly at home, any particular reason behind the decline over the past dozen games of so?

I wish I knew the answer to this one and it is a question that all Cardiff fans have been asking. Mind you a win and draw so far over Christmas is not bad. Leicester were the best team I have seen at Cardiff this year so that defeat not unexpected and I don't read too much into it. We gave them too much respect and did not 'lay a glove on them'. Generally the same group of players that were doing really well have started to look tired and predictable. Siopis has not been quite as good and if he dips the whole team seems to dip. Away from home we are content to sit and catch teams and we then seem to struggle when we try to go more on the front foot at home. Anything could happen against QPR - I was there for the 6-1 a few years back and although it will not be that score this time, I would not be surprised if QPR did the double over Cardiff - QPR will not do that that often this season!

Any January Rumours? What does this team need?

The big rumour is a return for Kieffer Moore (or any decent player from Greece/ Turkey). We really need a striker. We do not really have one at the moment. Kion Etete is probably the best of the bunch but it could be any one of him, Meite or Ugbo playing in that position against QPR and none of them are the complete package. There is talk that Bulut wants six signings in January and Vincent Tan seems to be backing him with (some) money, so we will see. I am not convinced by either goalkeeper and we also need a left back and a creative midfielder to go alongside the worker Siopis. But we really need a striker… come on Kieffer you know it makes sense.

Ins >>> Aaron Ramsey, 32, AM, Nice, Free >>> Manolis Siopsis, 29, CM, Trabzonspor, Free >>> Dimitrious Goutas, 29, CB, Sivasspor, Free >>> Yakou Meite, 27, LW, Reading, Free >>> Karlan Grant, 25, CF, West Brom, Loan >>> Ike Ugbo, 24, CF, Troyes, Loan >>> Josh Bowler, 24, RW, Forest, Loan >>> Jonathan Panzo, 22, CB, Forest, Loan >>> Runar Alex Runarsson, 28, GK, Arsenal, Loan

Outs >>> Max Watters, 24, CF, Barnsley, £300k >>> Ryan Allsop, 31, GK, Hull, Undisclosed >>> Mark Harris, 24, CF, Oxford, Free >>> Gavin Whyte, 27, RW, Portsmouth, Free >>> Dillon Phillips, 28, GK, Rotherham, Free >>> Tom Sang, 24, RB, Port Vale, Free >>> Ollie Denham, 21, CB, Dundee Utd, Loan >>> Eli King, 20, DM, Morecambe, Loan >>> Sheyi Ojo, 26, RW, Kortrijk (Belgium), Loan >>> Isaak Davies, 21, AM, Kortrijk (Still Belgium), Loan >>> Joel Bagan, 21, LB, Zulte (Also Belgium), Loan >>> Connor Wickham, 30, CF, Released

Stand out Players?

One of the reasons for the decline is that our two best players (in my opinion) have been injured. With Ramsey and O’Dowda in the starting 11, we would have a team that will compete with anyone - we were very unlucky not to get anything from the away matches at Ipswich and Leicester when they were flying earlier in the season. I do not think that either will be back against QPR but they are not far off fitness. These two aside, my stand out players are:

Siopis. He is small but covers every blade of grass, he covers the gaps in defence, breaks up play and is always available for a pass.

NG. Very consistent and is a brilliant defender as well as a threat going forward - has been linked with a move to the prem

Grant. On loan from West Brom - works hard and is starting to get his rewards in terms of performances and also goals. I think the manager really rates him.

Weak Links?

I have mentioned some of these - but I am not convinced by either goalkeeper. Both are prone to mistakes and soft goals. The right wing position is not great. This tends to be Bowler or Tanner. Bowler can be very good but he has looked off it recently. Tanner is a great ‘impact’ player as he proved against Swansea but has not impressed me when he has started. I have mentioned the weakness in the number nine position in the section above. The ‘ten’ position also concerns me. Ramsey would naturally be in this but neither Robinson nor Colwill have really made this position their own given the opportunity. Colwill has probably been the slightly better of the two in this position.

Revised Expectations for the season?

Better than last year. The Championship is such a crazy league and it is so clause in the middle of the table that anything could happen. But I will finish optimistically. If we get O’Dowda and Ramsey back and make 3-4 good signings in January then I think play offs are possible. But mid table is probably more realistic.

Links >>> Official Website >>> Three Little Birds — Blog >>> CCMB — Message Board >>> Wales Online — Local Paper >>> Mauve and Yellow — Blog >>> View From The Ninian — Website and Podcast

The Twitter @bushby_p, @loftforwords

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TacticalR added 14:24 - Jan 1
Thanks to Phil.

It sounds like there are more questions than answers about Cardiff's dip in form, although if the problem is strikers we know all about that.

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