Blackwell sacked as Bates aims to lift gloom

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The Independent Football

In characteristically perverse fashion, Ken Bates sacked Kevin Blackwell as Leeds United's manager yesterday, less than 24 hours after the Championship's 23rd-placed team appeared to have eased the pressure on him by beating Barnet 3-1 in the Carling Cup.

Bates, who handed Blackwell a two-year contract extension earlier this year, had clearly taken a longer-term perspective. Leeds won only one of the last 10 League fixtures in 2005-06 and were trounced 3-0 by Watford in the play-off final. This season, they have just two 1-0 wins from eight outings.

Dennis Wise, a Chelsea player during Bates' time as chairman, is the early favourite for the job, although the former Millwall player-manager is only months into a three-year contract with Swindon. Others thought to interest the Leeds owner are Alex McLeish and Claudio Ranieri, formerly of Rangers and Chelsea respectively, and Luton Town's Mike Newell.

Blackwell, 47, succeeded Eddie Gray at Elland Road in 2004 after Leeds were relegated amid financial meltdown. He had arrived 12 months earlier as coach to Peter Reid after leaving a similar post at Sheffield United, with whose manager, Neil Warnock, he spent much of his career as a journeyman goalkeeper.

Where the Leeds of Peter Ridsdale and David O'Leary spent seven-figure sums on players, reaching the semi-finals of the Champions' League yet running up debts of £119m, Blackwell's first side had to be constructed around free transfers and trialists.

He later revealed that when he attended a course in football management at Warwick University, the Ridsdale-era Leeds were cited as an example of how not to run a club. He described the financial management of the club as "like something out of Blackadder - a cunning plan to take us further into debt".

Leeds were close to liquidation when Bates bought control in January last year. Blackwell's days looked likely to be numbered, the buyer having made plain during a previous dalliance with Sheffield Wednesday that he felt goalkeepers made unsatisfactory managers. But Bates was impressed by Blackwell's dedication and soon allowed him to buy players. The fees were modest when measured on the Ridsdale scale - £1.1m for Rob Hulse, £1.15m on Richard Cresswell, £800,000 for Robbie Blake and £700,000 on Kevin Nicholls.

If the play-off final proved anticlimactic for Leeds' 50,000-strong following in Cardiff, it was hugely embarrassing for their manager. His cautious tactics were designed for the away leg of a two-match tie rather than a winner-takes-all contest and were comfortably trumped by one of his former coaches at Leeds, Adrian Boothroyd.

The air of negativity has carried over into the new campaign. Leeds have lost three successive Championship home games without scoring and occupy the lowest position in their history. The fanbase has begun to collapse - the 7,220 crowd for Barnet was the smallest in 45 years - and chants of "Time to go, Blackwell" have started.

The 3-0 capitulation to Roy Keane's Sunderland last week provided an example of how a new manager can reinvigorate players and supporters. By firing the honourable but unfortunate Blackwell, Bates will hope to have a similar impact on Leeds.

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