Bates sounds dinner gong for Blackwell

Stoke City 0 Leeds United 1
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The Independent Online

Kevin Blackwell is probably right when he speaks of Leeds lying six points off the play-off positions as nigh-on miraculous. "In July the club was just me and Gary Kelly," the Leeds manager said after Saturday's drab victory, making a scarcely veiled pitch to keep his job.

Kevin Blackwell is probably right when he speaks of Leeds lying six points off the play-off positions as nigh-on miraculous. "In July the club was just me and Gary Kelly," the Leeds manager said after Saturday's drab victory, making a scarcely veiled pitch to keep his job.

The financial problems that threatened to send Leeds into administration may have retreated with Ken Bates' takeover, but while the club can now, to use Blackwell's phrase, "stop looking over our shoulders", his own position has been called into doubt. Bates has made clear in the past that he does not believe former goalkeepers make good managers.

A dinner meeting later this week should clear things up in the short-term, but Blackwell's contribution to Leeds' survival should not be underestimated. "I think I'm good enough to go all the way as a manager," he said. "I can wheel and deal with the best of them, and I can put out a side that can play and is well-structured tactically. When I took the job there were a lot of people who thought it couldn't be done, but I've proved that it can and we've now got something to build on."

That something is an impressively obdurate approach that, on Saturday, was barely tempered by invention. It is a measure of quite how dreadful the game was that, of the small posse gathered on the grassy bank between the Sentinel and South Stands for a free view, only four remained by half-time and only one lasted the full 90 minutes, perhaps driven to catatonia by the sheer awfulness of it.

The game was decided, almost inevitably, by a shocking gaffe, when David Healy's low cross from the right struck Wayne Thomas's standing leg as he wound up for a clearance and rebounded into his own net. Having failed to score at the right end in their previous 526 minutes of Championship football, Stoke never looked like doing so in the 19 that remained.

Blackwell spoke of needing four or five players to turn Leeds into a team capable of holding their own in the "top half of the top half" of the table, and Bates may be able to provide that. Even with what he's got, though, Blackwell has overseen three successive away wins and Leeds are looking up rather than down. As miracles go, it's a bit like turning water into Blue Nun: barely palatable but impressive none the less.

Goal: Thomas og (71) 0-1.

Stoke City (4-4-2): Simonsen; Buxton, Thomas, Taggart, Hill (Asaba, 82); Russell, Brammer (Eustace, 85), Jarrett, Clarke; Noel-Williams (Greenacre, 54), Akinbiyi. Substitutes not used: De Goey (gk), Hall.

Leeds United (4-4-2): Sullivan; Kelly, Carlisle, Butler, Richardson; Lennon (Joachim, 46), Wright, Gregan, Pugh; Healy, Deane (Ricketts, 69). Substitutes not used: Harrison (gk), Einarrsson, Spring.

Referee: I Williamson (Hertfordshire).

Booked: Stoke Russell; Leeds Pugh, Deane, Ricketts.

Man of the match: Carlisle.

Attendance: 18,372.

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