Breaking even? This is break point for Leeds

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The Independent Football

The first item to catch the eye of anyone logging on to the official Leeds United website announces: "Loans available". It is an appropriate symbol of an era that will be on the verge of ending in the ignominy of relegation should Portsmouth take all three points from the match at Elland Road kicking off, bizarrely, at 11.30 this morning.

The first item to catch the eye of anyone logging on to the official Leeds United website announces: "Loans available". It is an appropriate symbol of an era that will be on the verge of ending in the ignominy of relegation should Portsmouth take all three points from the match at Elland Road kicking off, bizarrely, at 11.30 this morning.

The loans in question are for 20-year season tickets, which the club hoped to sell in sufficient numbers (2,000) to raise £8m. Like the best-laid schemes of the previous Peter Ridsdale regime, that little plan has gone somewhat awry, fewer than 100 hard-nosed Yorkshire folk having been persuaded to part with their brass. It was all part of the "sound, robust business plan" outlined by Geoffrey Richmond, football consultant to the consortium that took over the club on 22 February.

Exactly two months later, Richmond, hugely unpopular with Leeds supporters, had gone, and a second takeover, by local businessman Steve Parkin, was being negotiated. Parkin was confident on Thursday night that an offer of £20m would make him majority shareholder, ending the short-lived reign of Gerald Krasner, only to discover that the board had had a change of heart.

The chairman and his allies are also believed to have become as concerned as the fans that Richmond was exercising too much influence despite investing no money - a charge levelled at him before he left the club's neighbours Bradford City, who had huge debts and soon went into administration. His son David remains commercial director and has to decide where his loyalties lie. It is even possible Leeds have not seen the last of Richmond snr should the Parkin takeover be resurrected.

That may depend on how desperately short of funds Leeds find themselves. Indications are that their predicament is every bit as bad as the team's and that Krasner's long woolly Leeds scarf, which briefly brought a touch of colour to the directors' box, may end up being used to wipe away tears. Yesterday they were putting on a brave front, Peter Lorimer, the board member with responsibility for media affairs, echoing the Krasner mantra: "This board saved the football club. Just knowing the club is going to be around is a big bonus to everybody. If we do have to go down, we'll go that route and bounce back."

Few believe it will be that simple. Leeds may just about have managed to avoid administration thanks to the efforts of Trevor Birch, who acted as chief executive. Their ongoing difficulty, as he well knew even after Krasner's consortium had cleared all but £20m of the existing debt, was how to break even on a day-to-day basis, which cannot be done in any division on the existing wage structure. Hence the appeal for further investment, which Parkin felt he had answered.

A sum of £11m will be removed from the wage bill when David Batty, Lucas Radebe, Jason Wilcox, Michael Bridges and four players currently on loan are released at the end of the season. It will be necessary to add the names of Paul Robinson and Mark Viduka, if not Alan Smith, simply to repay £15m lent on a short-term basis by Jack Petchey, the ubiquitous East End time-share and property dealer who was previously a director of West Ham and chairman of Watford and now owns a chunk of Aston Villa.

Lorimer wants Smith to stay even in the event of relegation, but that is a forlorn hope. Prospects of staying up will be equally forlorn if Portsmouth, buoyed by their deserved victory over Manchester United, are not beaten this morning. The gap between them is five points, with Harry Redknapp's team having a game in hand on Tuesday week at home to Arsenal, who should already be champions by then. Portsmouth's new confidence is reflected in improved away form.

The key to Leeds' survival remains their home games. In a favourable run of fixtures at Elland Road they have beaten Manchester City and Leicester but failed to defeat Everton, which was a much worse result in the circumstances than losing 5-0 at Highbury nine days ago. Now Viduka is suspended after his stupid sending-off against Leicester and a clutch of midfielders are missing.

A 6-1 defeat at Fratton Park in November cost Peter Reid his job; the cost of losing by any margin today hardly bears thinking about, though the Nationwide should, after all, be a place to learn about financial management.

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