New stability, same issues - Cardiff season review

Erol Bulut
Erol Bulut's playing career included spells at Fenerbahce, 1860 Munich and Olympiacos [Huw Evans Picture Agency]

This season was something of a novelty for Cardiff City - an entire campaign without changing manager.

Erol Bulut became the first Bluebirds boss to last a whole season since Neil Warnock oversaw the 2018-19 term which ended with relegation from the Premier League.

So the most striking element of Bulut's first season in charge is the relative stability he has brought to such a dysfunctional club.

Then there is the marked improvement he has instigated.

Before Bulut's arrival, Cardiff had endured two successive battles to avoid relegation but, with the former Fenerbahce boss at the helm, they finished a comfortable 12th in the Championship table.

And yet having said all that, Cardiff cannot help but mire themselves in uncertainty.

Bulut has still not agreed a new contract. Despite stating publicly and repeatedly his desire to stay beyond his one-year deal, the 49-year-old still does not know whether or not he will be in charge next season.

Cardiff have belatedly started negotiations with Bulut but, as those talks drag on, they enter the summer with more questions than answers once again.

What went right?

Put simply, results were Cardiff's most obvious improvement this season.

Bulut is a pragmatist who values results over anything else and, while he would like his team to play a certain way, nothing matters as much as the final score.

With that in mind, Bulut instilled a belief and dogged determination which helped his team pick up points even when they were not at their best.

Former Birmingham manager Wayne Rooney gave an astute assessment when he said: "Cardiff are a team who stay in games and try to nick three points."

That was evident as Cardiff mounted several impressive late comebacks over the course of the season to snatch improbable victories against the likes of Ipswich Town, Southampton and Preston North End.

The wins over Ipswich and Southampton also contributed to a better home record. Having managed only six victories at Cardiff City Stadium during 2022-23, the Bluebirds won 10 times there this season.

Bulut has also built a rapport with the club's fans that few of his predecessors have enjoyed. A charismatic character, he regularly attends supporters' events and has gained admirers for his honesty with the media.

And securing a first south Wales derby win over arch rivals Swansea City since 2021 certainly helped.

What went wrong?

Cardiff's improvement under Bulut is undoubted - but performances and results have still been inconsistent.

That much is clear when you consider that only three clubs in the Championship finished this season with a worse goal difference than the Bluebirds' -17.

They only drew five games out of 46, winning 19 but losing 22.

Although there were highlights such as the aforementioned victories, there were also some hideous performances and results.

A run of one win in eight games during January and February included dismal displays such as a limp 3-0 home defeat by Leeds United, while the 2-0 derby loss at Swansea in March might have been the worst of all.

Cardiff were often blunt in attack and scored only 53 league goals all season, a major factor in their fallow periods.

It will not have helped Bulut's cause that many of his team's poorest performances came at home.

They were desperately flat on occasions, prompting some fans to voice their frustrations about the style of play.

What do they need this summer?

First of all, Cardiff need to sort out Bulut's future, one way or another.

It is understood he wants assurances that he will be given money to spend during what should be another busy transfer window.

A transfer embargo meant Cardiff could only sign players on free transfer or loans last year, but the ban was lifted for the January window.

This summer, the squad is set for another overhaul with several players leaving as their contracts or loans expire.

Karlan Grant, Nat Phillips, Josh Bowler and Josh Wilson-Esbrand will need replacing now their loans are up, while Jamilu Collins, Famara Diedhiou and Romaine Sawyers are all out of contract.

Bulut will be eager to bolster his attacking options, with an emphasis on signing a proven goalscorer and adding pace in wide forward positions.

The defence is fairly settled but, with right-back and player of the season Perry Ng attracting interest from Premier League clubs, Cardiff will hope they are able to hold on to their most valuable assets.

It is an important summer ahead for Cardiff. Bulut has brought some much-needed stability but, until his future is decided, uncertainty remains.