Ironies abound for Leeds in the ultimate showdown
Saturday 20 May 2006
Leeds' relegation in 2004 followed the financial meltdown provoked by Ridsdale's over-spending. Supporters feared the club would continue to struggle, like Sheffield Wednesday and Nottingham Forest, but under Kevin Blackwell they have rebuilt and are now one match from a regaining élite status. Barring their way are a Watford side who have also come back from money problems and were just two points from dropping into the third tier last season.
In a further twist the man who has inspired their improbable promotion challenge, Adrian Boothroyd, was working for Blackwell only 14 months ago. Boothroyd was hired by Leeds to be Blackwell's No 3 and worked at Elland Road for eight months. He now hopes he can turn that knowledge to his advantage.
"I know Kevin, I've worked with him," Boothroyd said. "As a No 3 you do a lot more watching and listening than you do talking; I don't think Kevin will know my tactics particularly well. I think I might have a slight edge because of that. Mind you, he'd probably say he's spent £12m that gives him an edge."
Boothroyd, who at 35 is younger than players taking part tomorrow, added: "The situation at Leeds when I was there was like something out of [Sky TV's] Dream Team. One week we were wondering whether we would go into administration, one month we couldn't pay the players' wages, then Ken Bates came in and we were saved. I keep a diary, and when I look back I realise how much I learned." Boothroyd's ebullient presence, Blackwell said, helped Leeds' recovery process. "When this club came out of the Premiership it was as low as any club could be. It was not just that we had been relegated, but also the number of people leaving," the Leeds manager said.
"The atmosphere was awful. I needed to bring in people who had that little something extra - they had to handle being at a club the size of Leeds, but also bring a little bit of joviality.
"In his interview Adrian came across as bubbly. I was at a club where everything was so flat and there was nothing to look forward to. We had no money and I couldn't buy players. But Adrian was full of beans and it was that element I needed."
Blackwell, who must find a left-back to replace the suspended Stephen Crainey, is expected to retain Frazer Richardson in a five-man midfield and omit David Healy. Boothroyd is likely to match it with Alhassan Bangura keeping out Darius Henderson.
Leeds, who last lost to Watford in 1992, will have the bulk of the support but that will amplify the heavy weight of expectation. They must deal with that, and Watford's free-scoring, counter-attacking, to secure a return to dreamland.
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