Jones' future is finely balanced as Cardiff's form falls off a cliff

Bristol City 3 Cardiff City 0
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The Independent Football

When an England international feels obliged to stand up for a manager whose Championship club is just three points off second, with a game in hand, then it is easy to surmise that the said club's ambitions are on the taller side of lofty. So it is with Cardiff City, who find themselves in a rather odd state of turmoil as they head into a pivotal-looking encounter with Leeds tomorrow night.

The Welshmen remain central characters in the promotion race, although do so with their boots apparently tied together. Saturday's humbling was the latest set-back in a seven-match run which has brought five defeats and only one win. In this spell they have dropped from being top and 11 points clear of fifth all the way down to fifth. Inevitably enough, on the back of the 4-1 defeat at Watford, this Severnside slip-up was depicted as having heaped pressure on Dave Jones' job.

The Malaysian owners are paying some hefty salaries – including a proportion of Craig Bellamy's £90,000-a-week – and are not about to sit quietly back and watch last year's play-off finalists slip out of the frame. Or so goes the "Jones on the brink" story.

Jones himself was aghast when the question was put to him in the bowels of Ashton Gate, calling the inquisitor "out of order". That is a belief shared by Jay Bothroyd, who reacted to breaking reports of an emergency board meeting taking place yesterday with: "Why am I reading that Cardiff are considering Dave Jones' future? That's outrageous – it's we players who haven't performed in recent weeks."

At it happens, the striker who made his England debut two months ago, has not performed at all in recent weeks, due first to a hamstring and then a heel injury. He is undoubtedly being missed and the ongoing speculation of an imminent move to the Premier League has only intensified the pining.

Yet Cardiff's biggest absence at the moment is a defence. "We are just making some terrible decisions at the back and we have to do something about it quickly," said Jones, after witnessing Bristol City create at least 10 solid chances. "I will take action in the transfer window if I think it is necessary."

At least one centre-half is a necessity, yet the first man in yesterday was the centre-forward John Parkin. With Bothroyd not yet ready to resume, the £100,000 signing from Preston may well be called on against Leeds and already, this far out, that match has been billed as a must-win.

"Why is it must-win?" asked Jones, refusing to even entertain the notion it could be a "must" as far as his continued employment is concerned. "If we do win, does that mean everything is fine?" Perhaps it will, or perhaps it won't. For as the Bristol City manager Keith Millen put it: "This is a mad league."

He added: "We are now seven points away from the relegation zone but someone just told me we are only five points off the play-offs. That sums up the craziness of this division." He will be hoping for further freneticism when they travel to the leaders QPR this afternoon.

Bristol City (4-4-2) James; Skuse (Ribeiro 52), Caulker, Cisse, Nyatanga; Admonah (Sproule 77), Elliott, Johnson, Campbell-Ryce; Stead (Clarkson 88), Pitman. Substitutes not used: Gerken (gk), Stewart, Haynes, Edwards.

Cardiff City (4-4-2) Heaton; McNaughton, Hudson, Riggott (Blake 16), Naylor; Whittingham (Burke 49), Olofinjana, McPhail, Bellamy; Keogh (Koumas 67), Chopra. Substitutes not used Santiago (gk), Rae, Quinn, Matthews.

Referee: S Attwell

Attendance: 15,683. Man of the match: Stead.