Saturday, November 26, 2005

Lucky Ending! Millwall 0 United 1
leedsunited.com

A last minute shot from David Healy deflected in for the only goal of the game gave Leeds a crucial win at the New Den...the first time they have put three back to back wins together in almost three years.

Pre-Match
United boss Kevin Blackwell counted himself fortunate to only be forced into making the one change following the 2-0 win over Burnley in midweek. Rob Hulse, Shaun Derry and Liam Miller had all been doubts for the game, but had recovered sufficiently to keep their places, and in the case of Miller, special dispensation was granted by the referee for him to play with a cast on his fractured wrist. Skipper Paul Butler was absent though whilst he served a one match ban. His absence gave Sean Gregan the chance to come in and stake a claim for a more permanent recall to the starting XI.

The Match
David Healy wore an armband in respect of George Best, his fellow Ulsterman who the Leeds striker regarded as one of his big heroes in the game. The game itself, like the East End weather, had a cold start. It wasn't until the 12th minute that anything of real note in the game when Rob Hulse nearly charged down a clearance from the rookie keeper, Colin Doyle, forcing him to mis-kick. Three minutes later though Leeds began a spell of possession which would see them dominate the game without getting the goals to show for it. Working their way around the Millwall penalty area, Healy fed Miller, the midfielder then spread the ball out wide to Hulse on the right and his cross met Eddie Lewis on the left of the penalty area where the USA international saw his shot come back off the post and hit the cornerflag before going out. Two minutes later Healy let fly with a left-footed shot that struck the same post that Lewis did from just inside the area. United were desperately unlucky not to have taken the lead. On 23 minutes Sean Gregan body-checked Hayles as the striker prepared to get past him and ended up picking up his fifth booking of the season. Gregan, only coming into the side in the place of the suspended Paul Butler, now faces a one match ban - ruling out his chances of holding onto his place. Just before the half hour Healy robbed Millwall centre-half Ady Williams and was unlucky that in doing so the ball went just far enough ahead of him for the keeper to come out and save. Shortly afterwards Blake put a ball across the face of the area and neither Healy, Hulse nor Liam Miller were able to get a foot to the ball which Williams cleared behind. Millwall meanwhile had not managed to get a shot off on goal, the furthest upfield they got was when they won a corner on 35 minutes which came to nothing. United suffered a blow eight minutes before the break when Shaun Derry was forced off after the midfielder picked up what looked to be a hamstring injury. Jonathan Douglas came on in his place. Douglas went through on goal just before the break but he was halted by the keeper and his tame effort went wide - any claims for a penalty would not have come to anything with the referee having spotted the offside flag but allowing play to continue after he saw Douglas's shot was going nowhere. At half-time Leeds knew they should have been at least one goal up, if not two.
A minute into the second half and Eddie Lewis was brought down two yards short of the penalty area by fellow American Zak Whitbread in a challenge that earned the on-loan Liverpool man a yellow card. Matthew Kilgallon met Kelly's free-kick but couldn't direct it on goal. Jonathan Douglas became the next Leeds player to earn a suspension when he too collected his fifth booking of the season for a foul on Alan Dunne ten minutes into the half. From the free-kick Millwall had their first chance of the game but wasted the opportunity with their captain Paul Robinson heading wide from six yards out at the back post. Another good chance for Leeds after the hour mark saw Miller cross into the middle of the penalty area and Lewis looked set to break the deadlock but his goalwards header was blocked. Rob Hulse was brought down for a free-kick five yards out from the penalty area and a debate began amongst Blake, Miller and Lewis as to who would take it. Miller won the decision but shot straight into the wall. Liam Miller was then the third Leeds player booked for a foul on Hayles.Hulse then latched onto a good through ball from Healy with 16 minutes left but put his shot wide of the advancing keeper and the goal. An offside flag went up belatedly but Hulse would have normally been expected to have hit the target. Leeds could have lost the game in the last eight minutes when the ball fell to Hayles some 12-yards out, his shot was on target but Neil Sullivan pulled off a great save - really the first time in the match he had been given something serious to save. Two minutes later Rob Hulse appeared to be bundled over inside the area as he chased a free-kick into the box, but no penalty was forthcoming from the referee. The save of the game though came from Millwall keeper Colin Doyle, Kelly's free-kick went loose inside the area and Blake met it with a fierce right footed strike that was heading for the back of the net until Doyle somehow got a hand to the ball to turn it away. The threat from Leeds wasn't over though but came to an embarrassing end when Hulse turned but lost his balance and swung a boot at the ball without making contact. Healy could have won it just into injury time when he hit a low drive goalwards only to see it blocked almost on the line by Rob Hulse! Leeds looked destined to miss out on another chance to record a third straight win but in second minute of injury time the ball broke for Healy on the left of the penalty area and his shot cannoned off the helpless Millwall substitute Ben May past Doyle into the back of the net.It was a huge slice of luck but had Leeds not won this game there would have been an inquest, especially after dominating the first half so much.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

BLACKWELL EYES PROMOTION PUSH
Sporting Life

Leeds manager Kevin Blackwell has challenged his side to catch the Coca-Cola Championship's top two after a 2-0 home win over Burnley.
Second-half goals from David Healy and Robbie Blake clinched victory in a game against a side that put up a determined effort at Elland Road and controlled proceedings for a large period.
And on the back of their superb comeback victory against Southampton on Saturday, Blackwell has challenged his team to build a run that will haul them into one of the automatic promotion places.
"That's what football's about," said Blackwell.
"We're half-way through the season and there's no doubt them (Reading) and Sheffield United are flying.
"But you've just got to keep playing every game and keep knocking points on the board.
"It's like a bike race, people go way out in front but it's funny how they get caught.
"The problem for both of those clubs is that they'll know that they need to keep looking over their shoulder.
"If we can put any pressure on them then great, but if we can't, we'll just keep plugging away and make sure we're in that top six.
"The Burnley side were on a great run, and we knew that as a top-six side coming here, they'd be difficult to play against," added Blackwell.
"They're always difficult to play against and they didn't disappoint."
Blackwell's side struggled under the weight of expectation last season, and their latest victory will only serve to revive hopes of promotion, but he is doing his best to make sure his players do not lose their head this time.
"We had to have some grit and determination to hang on, we showed a bit of flair and we showed that we can score goals," said the United boss.
Burnley chief Steve Cotterill did little to temper the pressure on Blackwell and his players, claiming that with a squad like that, they should be putting pressure on the top two.
"If you've got Blake, Healy, (Eddie) Lewis, and (Rob) Hulse in your team, I don't think you can fail to win," he said.
"I think it's the best front line, the best creators in the league. You can argue maybe Wolves, but when Blakey's like that you can't handle him."
Cotterill added that he thought the performance of Blake, who scored with an exquisite free-kick, was the deciding factor, reluctantly praising the ex-Burnley striker.
"I don't want to give him any praise, but I thought he was the difference, I thought he was superb," he added.
With regards to the result, Cotterill felt harshly treated by the referee, who also cancelled out a quick free-kick from Jon Harley just three minutes after Healy's 55th-minute penalty.
"You better ask the referee about that," he said. "If someone else does it and bends it into the top corner (Blake), they say you're a genius, but if Jon Harley does it, we've got to take it again. Maybe he didn't want to give anything contentious tonight.
"I thought we were better than them tonight. If anyone was a betting man there would have been only one team you'd be putting your money on at half-time."

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Blake Haunts Clarets: United 2 Burnley 0
leedsunited.com

Leeds kept pace with the play-off contenders thanks to a David Healy penalty and a special free-kick from Robbie Blake to give them all three points against Burnley.

Pre-Match
United boss Kevin Blackwell made just the one change to the side that enjoyed a remarkable comeback against Southampton at the weekend.
David Healy gets the chance to start the game at the expense of Frazer Richardson, but unlike Saturday when Leeds adopted a 4-3-3 formation, Healy would be operating as a winger in a more traditional 4-42.
Liam Miller had been a doubt for the game with a thigh strain but he was passed fit before the game and kept his place.
Burnley recalled goalkeeper Brian Jensen and Frank Sinclair after suspension.

The Match
With just four minutes on the clock Matthew Kilgallon was unlucky not to claim the third goal of his Leeds United career.
Healy won and took a corner on the right and Kilgallon got a flick on but no-one was there to get a crucial touch, but still the ball was in play with Lewis on the left and when he swung the ball back into the area Kilgallon was there again to meet it - his header though came back off the underside of the bar.
It was a sign from Leeds that they were out to be positive from the start and make sure the horror showing of the first half at Southampton becomes a thing of the past.
Burnley had not come to Elland Road to be cannon fodder though, they too are enjoying a resurgence and enjoyed a good spell early on when they forced half a dozen corners out of the Leeds defence.
They had their chances too, James O'Connor brought a good save out of Sullivan as his drive from the edge of the area was turned over.
Ade Akinbiyi, once berated for his lack of goalscoring ability by supporters at his previous clubs but now enjoying a rich vein of form with 12 before this game, could have made it 13 but he headed over from the corner.
The three United strikers on the pitch combined after 20 minutes to produce a great move that deserved a goal. It all happened down the right flank where Hulse's ball to Healy was deftly flicked between two Burnley defenders and right to the feet of Robbie Blake. Just as he looked to turn Frank Sinclair and go inside, the defender got a lucky touch to take the ball behind and out of play. United scratched their heads though when no corner was forthcoming.
Nathan Dyer saw his shot defelect off Butler and land on top of the netting for a corner in what was another let-off for Leeds, and then John McGreal headed wide from another corner.
Leeds fans thought they were cheering the first goal of the game on 29 minutes when Robbie Blake's trickery on the edge of the penalty area saw him create a golden opportunity for Eddie Lewis.
Blake's ball had managed to take two defenders out of the equation for Lewis, but the USA international drove his shot into the side netting.
The much anticipated meeting of Shaun Derry and Micah Hyde, whom Derry accuses of assaulting him in the game at Turf Moor and leaving him with five stitches, produced little in terms of fireworks - in the first half at least. The pair kept their distance.
Three minutes into the second half and United supporters were cheering - but once again it proved to be premature with an offside flag ruling out Rob Hulse's effort after good build up play between Miller and Healy.
With 53 minutes on the clock, United got the breakthrough courtesy of David Healy from the penalty spot.
Eddie Lewis was the man who won it after he was tripped half a yard inside the area by Michael Duff after he had wrong-footed the right-back. It was a clear penalty. Healy took it and even though Jensen in the Burnley goal got a touch, he couldn't prevent the ball from squirming past him and Leeds were a goal to the good.
Leeds survived just minutes after the opener when Jon Harley put the ball in the back of the net from a quickly taken free-kick. Fortunately the referee had not been ready and the effort was ruled out.
When the free-kick was eventually taken though they came close as Micah Hyde got space inside the area but Sullivan took the shot with a firm grasp.
After Healy was booked for a foul just after the hour, Leeds defended the free-kick well and almost caught Burnley out on the break, Miller just putting his shot wide after Robbie Blake had teed up up on the edge of the area.
On 70 minutes Leeds were treated to a special goal, and one that probably left a bitter taste in the mouths of the Burnley fans, as Robbie Blake - a former Claret - curled home a free-kick.
It was give for a push on Healy and Blake showed just why he is the man to have in deadball situations as he placed the ball with inch perfect precision inside the goal from 22-yards out. Leeds now had that all important cushion of a second goal and time on their side as they looked forward to another valuable three points.
Four minutes later Blake had another free-kick from almost the same position but this time he put the shot over the crossbar.
Yet another free-kick in a similar position for Leeds saw Liam Miller step up to take it and his attempt was just blocked for a corner.
Burnley made a double substitution with 11 minutes remaining, bringing Wade Elliott and Danny Karbassiyoon on. The changes were a little too late from a Burnley perspective.
Kevin Blackwell also made one change with Richardson coming on for Healy, and the striker got a standing ovation as he left the field. Akinbiyi might have got a consolation goal with three minutes remaining but he put his shot straight into Sullivan's arms from an excellent position.
By the end Leeds had coasted to the win, and the last twenty minutes saw them play some bright and inventive football. Add that to the last twenty-five minutes at Southampton and it just about makes up for that dreadful first half at St Mary's. Three points well deserved and much needed to give Leeds some comfort inside the play-off zone.
One Of Our Best
leedsunited.com

Leeds boss Kevin Blackwell hailed his side's remarkable comeback against Southampton as one of the best of all time - anywhere.
The Whites were trailing 3-0 at half-time but inspired by 3,000 fans who kept backing them, and the introduction of David Healy in the second half, they produced a memorable fightback that culminated in Liam Miller scoring the fourth and winning goal.
Not since United turned the tables on Derby County in November 1997 after finding themselves 3-0 at Elland Road have Leeds produced such a remarkable comeback, and Blackwell says it is the best game he's ever been involved in.
"It's up there with the top victories because at 3-0 down nobody could see us winning that game," he said.
"I remember a night with Sheffield United against Leeds United when we were 1-0 down with 2 minutes to go and we won 2-1, that was some night, but this was a lot more elongated because the comeback had to be a long longer and stronger.
"It was pure entertainment at the end but it doesn't do anytrhing for managers hearts. There was not one person left the stadium and they couldn't because it was just pure theatre."
Blackwell had a few choice words for his team at the half-time interval and they responded in the right manner.
"I sent the lads out after half time and said you've got yourself in trouble now get yourself out of it. There's not many teams that will come back from that sort of situation.
"we were not playing well and at 3-0 down you couldn't be any lower, but they have shown unbelievable team spirit.
"I didn't make any changes at half-time, I know when you work with people everyday you believe in what they can do and how they're doing it, but when you are losing 3-0 and not playing well it's a kick in the wotsits.
"I have said we will get more belief and understanding in the second half of the season and certainly today they've shown the ingredients every team needs to have around the promotion places, and that's spirit - we had that in abundance.
Blackwell reserves special praise for the Leeds fans who, although they showed their disapproval at half-time, continued to stick with the players through the game and never stopped singing for them.
It made the comeback all that bit more special.
"When you have massive support like we have it's not good enough to come in three goals down," continued Blackwell.
"I am just delighted we sent them home with something to think about, it's been a long long time since Leeds have come back from three goals down.
"I've been willing to say that I felt Leeds United was a club split all over the place and my job in the last 15 months has been to rebuild the faith amongst the players, the fans and the board.
"We are a club that is united now, the fans never turned on one of the players, they shouted us through at 3-0 down, and I would argue they gave us the platform to keep going.
"A lot of fans would have booed and jeered their team but ours are just magnificent."
AMAZING!
4.31pm: Saints 3 United 04.46pm: Saints 3 United 4
Blackwell: It has to be the most dramatic game I've ever seen
By PAUL DEWS
Yorkshire Evening Post

LEEDS UNITED boss Kevin Blackwell hailed his side's stunning 4-3 success at Southampton as the most dramatic game he has ever seen.
Blackwell's side were dead and buried at 3-0 down with 20 minutes remaining, but they staged an amazing fightback to win 4-3 after scoring all four goals in the space of just 15 minutes.
The recovery ranks as one of the greatest in United's history – loan man Liam Miller bagged the dramatic winner – and Blackwell was almost speechless.
"It's up there with the top victories I've been involved in because at 3-0 down nobody could see us winning that game," said Blackwell.
"I remember a night with Sheffield United against Leeds when we were 1-0 down with two minutes to go and we won 2-1.
"That was some night, but Saturday was a lot more dramatic because the comeback had to be longer and stronger.
"It was pure entertainment at the end – but it doesn't do anything for managers' hearts.
"Not one person left the stadium and they couldn't because it was just pure theatre."
Blackwell said the final flurry summed up the togetherness in his camp and was quick to pay tribute to the character shown by his troops.United were three goals down at half-time and, until Paul Butler popped up to score a 71st minute header, there was no suggestion that Leeds would take anything from the game.
"I sent the lads out at half time and said you've got yourselves in the mire now get yourselves out of it," said Blackwell.
"Not many teams will come back from that sort of situation. We were not playing well and at 3-0 down you couldn't be any lower, but they've shown unbelievable team spirit.
"We are frustrated because we feel this is a good side, but we don't feel they know how good they can be.
"They weigh the opposition up without getting on with their own game.
"What went wrong in the first half? Everything went wrong. We turned up!"
Blackwell's joy was tempered by the opening 70 minutes during which his Leeds side looked like they were simply happy to make up the numbers.
"I didn't make any changes at half-time," said the manager. "I know when you work with people everyday you believe in what they can do and how they're doing it, but when you are losing 3-0 and not playing well it's a kick in the wotsits.
"I have said we will get more belief and understanding in the second half of the season and certainly they've shown the ingredients every team needs to have around the promotion places, and that's spirit. We had that in abundance.

Target
"We've been in the top four or five most of the season and I just want them to go home now and try and bang three or four wins together.
"That's the target now."
Blackwell and United owed a debt of gratitude to substitute David Healy who again came off the bench to inspire Leeds towards their stunning finish.Healy turned the game at Reading last month when he scored the equaliser in a 1-1 draw and, after being involved in United's first two goals at Southampton, he bagged the leveller again on Saturday.
"It's never easy coming on as a sub, but sometimes you get lucky and come on and do something that changes the game," said Healy. "The gaffer wants people to come on off the bench and make an impact. We got lucky Saturday because we got a goal early on when I came on and from there on they took their foot off the gas and we caught them out. The gaffer's been on all week about how we haven't scored enough goals, so there's four there, and they were all spread around the team and that's good for the team. It's only one game and we only get three points for coming back from 3-0 down, but we have another game tomorrow night and have to get the three points there and kick on."

Sunday, November 20, 2005

United's Miracle! Saints 3 - Leeds 4!
leedsunited.com

Three-nil down at half-time, Leeds were dead and buried - but never count United out as they produced the most remarkable of comebacks to take all three points in an action packed thriller at St Mary's.

Pre-Match
United boss Kevin Blackwell had endured some frustration over the international break after his plans to get all the strikers working together in training fell through, namely David Healy's ankle problems that kept the Northern Ireland international on the bench for this game.
Healy was still not 100% fit and as such Blackwell made the decision to start with Rob Hulse and Robbie Blake together, the pair having prepared well in the build up to the game. Healy would feature on the bench and be used as an impact player.
That was the only change from the side that drew with Preston at Elland Road in what had been a low key performance for the Whites.
Results before the game had seen Leeds fall out of the top six and they went into the game knowing that if they didn't win and results elsewhere went against them, they could fall as low as 11th in the table. There was certainly plenty riding on this game.

The Match
It wasn't the brightest start by Leeds against a home side desperate to avenge the 2-1 defeat they suffered at Elland Road only a month and a day before, a game Harry Redknapp's men felt they deserved at least a point from.
Still it was United who threatened first as Hulse got in an early header after meeting Gary Kelly's free-kick floated ino the area, but it was a tame effort on goal.
Then the Saints got going and put together a few good moves that were fortunately unrewarded.
Michael Svensson met a Dennis Wise cross with a good downwards header but the danger was brought to a quick end by the referee as he had spotted a push on Kilgallon.
Then Neil Sullivan pushed away a Quashie cross that threatened to cause all kinds of trouble as Ormerod and Svensson both went up for the ball
Dan Harding's back-pass put Sullivan in all kinds of trouble as he only just cleared the ball away before the speedy Theo Walcott closed him down.
After that Leeds managed to regain their composure and both Eddie Lewis and Frazer Richardson began to see a lot of the ball on the wings. Paul Butler picked up a booking, the first of the game, after he caught Matt Oakley late in the middle of the park on 20 minutes. The United skipper must now serve a one match ban for picking up five yellow cards this season.
Theo Walcott's pace had seen him terrorise the Leeds defence at Elland Road and again he caused problems.
It was his ball whipped into the area that forced Kelly to turn the ball behind for a corner that gave Southampton the opportunity they needed to score from a set-play.
The cross came in and was flicked goalwards by Svensson and right into the path of Latvian striker Marian Pahars to nod home.
It had been poor marking by Leeds and they paid dearly for it. Rob Hulse was booked in the aftermath for dissent. Dennis Wise later joined him in the book for the same offence.
Leeds were struggling to get back into the game and before they really had the chance to get going again they found themselves 2-0 down.
Again walcott was involved, he had been set loose down the right flank again by Quashie and his pace took him past the man considered to be United's quickest defender, Matthew Kilgallon, and he simply cut the ball back across face of goal where Quashie sidefooted the ball home from the edge of the area.
Two goals down Leeds were left with plenty to do if they had any hope of getting something from the game, and had also not scored in the previous two games.
On-loan Liam Miller became the third United player to be booked when he blasted the ball into Pahars after Kelly had brought the striker down.
Rob Hulse had a great chance to get Leeds back in the game five minutes before half-time when Lewis curled a ball back into the box and the striker met it well but put his header straight into Antti Niemi's hands. It had been United's best chance of the half.
Just after the fourth official had signalled two minutes of time added on to be played, Leeds shot themselves in the foot by conceding a third goal from the penalty spot.
Dan Harding was left exposed as a chipped ball fell for Matt Oakley on the right hand side of the box and he headed the ball back across the face of goal where Harding's hands went up and gave the referee no option but to point to the spot as contact was made.
Saints skipper Nigel Quashie went for power and blasted it high into the far right hand corner of the net.
At half-time Leeds looked well out of the game. A miracle was needed.
Southampton continued in the second half where they left off at the end of the first - creating chance and chance to score again.
They came close to making it 4-0 and would have done but for Neil Sullivan saving at point blank range from one time Elland Road loan signing Brett Ormerod after the striker met a flick on into the six-yard box.
Eddie Lewis was booking number four for Leeds after he brought Rory Delap's 40-yard run to an end. On 68 minutes Liam Miller had a chance to reduce the damage from a free-kick on the edge of the area, but his attempt was about a yard over the top of the Saints goal.
Blackwell made his first change straight after the free-kick, bringing David Healy on and taking Frazer Richardson off which left United with three strikers on the pitch. Healy stayed on that right flank.
Healy did inject a bit of life into Leeds, winning a corner after his shot was blocked and from the corner Leeds gave themselves a glimmer of hope.
Kelly swung in the corner and skipper Paul Butler met it at the back post with a perfectly weighted header that arched over Niemi and fell nicely into the back of the net.
With just under 20 minutes left there was still time for Leeds to pull off a remarkable comeback, but did they have it in them to do just that?
Two goals down suddenly became just one as Robbie Blake came up with his third goal of the season, right on cue and with 14 minutes of the game remaining.
Liam Miller drove Leeds forward and fed Healy, his shot-cross fell for Blake who smashed the ball into the bottom right hand corner of the net.
United's fans had been singing all through the game but for the first time they had genuine reason to stick with their team, they believed Leeds could get themselves back into the game and that belief was being transfered onto the pitch.
Then with less than eight minutes remaining it happened - Leeds won a penalty and the chance to grab what had looked the most unlikely equaliser.
Healy was the instigator as he smacked the ball against Higginbotham and the referee again pointed in dramatic fashion to the penalty spot. Healy lifted the ball high into the back of the net and suddenly the unthinkable had happened.
If coming back from three goals down was not enough, Leeds completed the most remarkable of comebacks by grabbing a fourth goal with Southampton's defence all at sea.
Rob Hulse turned the ball back inside from the left hand side of the penalty area and Liam Miller met it right in the middle of the penalty area, almost on the spot and just drove the ball home to give Leeds an incredible lead!
From the edge of despair the Leeds fans were in ecstasy and had witnessed a comeback as good as any in United's long and glorious history.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

United fail in loan bid for Brown
by Phil Hay
Yorkshire Evening Post

Kevin Blackwell today admitted the transfer market has become a closed shop after Leeds United missed out on the signature of Michael Brown.
United attempted to strike a loan deal with the Tottenham midfielder after securing Liam Miller from Manchester United, but Brown has opted to remain in London and fight for his place at White Hart Lane.
The 28-year-old, who worked with Blackwell at Sheffield United, has made just four appearances for Martin Jol's side this season after Spurs invested heavily in midfield talent during the summer.
Blackwell had hoped to secure Brown in time for Saturday's Championship clash at Southampton, but his loan options are growing thin as the country's clubs close ranks ahead of the demanding Christmas schedule.
Blackwell admitted: "We had a try for Michael but it didn't come off. We'll move on and explore other avenues.
"It's very difficult at this moment in time to do anything, especially with the Christmas period coming up.
"Clubs are reluctant to let players go, and I think January and February are the times when you'll see a lot of movement."

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Blake: Give Us A Break
BY PAUL DEWS In Rodez
Yorkshire Evening Post

LEEDS UNITED striker Robbie Blake today dismissed notions of a mini-crisis at Elland Road and insisted the international break couldn't have come at a better time.
United's goalless draw against Preston on Saturday was enough to ensure that Kevin Blackwell's side will resume their Championship campaign at Southampton on Saturday week in fifth place in the division. But, after losing to Crewe and being held at home by Preston, Leeds have wavered in recent weeks and have missed repeated chances to cement themselves as Sheffield United and Reading's main promotion rivals. "Saturday was a pretty tough game and we have to be disappointed with the performance," conceded former Birmingham marksman Blake ahead of tonight's friendly clash against French side Rodez. "But we've only lost one in eight league games, so it's not that much of a crisis. "Hopefully the break will do us the world of good and we'll come back fresh against Southampton. That'll be a tough game, but they're the games you have to win if you want to be up there." Two weeks ago, United had a five-point advantage over their closest rivals, but after hard-fought draws against the top two, they failed to follow up against Crewe and Preston. Just six points now separate fourth-placed Luton Town from 14th placed Preston and the battle for the play-off spots is already starting to hot-up. Sheffield United and Reading are firm favourites for the top two slots and with Watford also finding form in third place the chasing pack are all jostling to stay in contention. "We've had a very tough month in terms of fixtures," said Blake. "We took points off the big teams, but then Crewe was very disappointing."Preston are a decent side, but we were still disappointed to pick up only a point on Saturday. "The way we look at it, is that we've got to hang in there. We're not even halfway through the season yet. "There is pressure on us to win games and that's what we have to do. "The tag of being Leeds United is also a big pressure, and we've got to start picking maximum points up. "When we go to Southampton we've got to win or make sure we don't get beat at the very least. "When you look at the league, there are hardly any points separating fourth through to sixth-bottom, and it is a very tight league. "But we have to get back to another winning spell, like we did against Derby and Southampton at home. "We had a five-point gap, but that's diminished now and we've got to go again." Blake's involvement has been restricted in recent weeks – he was dropped back to the subs bench in place of David Healy – but the striker will start tonight's friendly against Rodez Aveyron. "Saturday was difficult when I came on because they were having a decent spell," said Blake. "All I can do when I come on is try and sway the manager to pick me. I've just got to hang in there. Enjoyable"I'm over the fitness stuff now and was looking forward to the break and regrouping. "We're in France for a few days, we've got a game tonight, and it should be an enjoyable week."

Saturday, November 05, 2005

The Match: United 0 Preston 0
leedsunited.com

An average game at Elland Road saw Leeds held to a 0-0 draw by Preston North End but it was an encouraging performance from new-boy Liam Miller.

Pre-match
United boss Kevin Blackwell gave Liam Miller his debut in midfield, just 24 hours after the Irish international arrived on loan from Manchester United.
Miller's inclusion saw another loan signing, Jonathan Douglas, drop down to the bench. There was one further change with Ian Moore also dropping out of the starting XI and Frazer Richardson returning to the right wing.
With David Healy and Eddie Lewis starting there were two former Preston players up against the former club, whilst Sean Gregan, who once captained the Lilywhites, was on the bench.

The Match
Kevin Blackwell's decision to throw Liam Miller straight into the thick of the action barely 24 hours after his arrival at Elland Road may on the face of it appeared bold (Remember Roque Junior!), but straight away the Irishman showed why it was no gamble.
With four minutes on the clock he spotted the space in midfield and lifted the crowd at Elland Road with a great run that saw him make 50-yards as he skipped past Brian O'Neil and Claude Davis before playing a perfect ball to David Healy.
It didn't end in a goal but it was exactly the type of positive running and imaginative play that Leeds had been lacking.
Healy did get the ball in the goal from the corner but his headed effort was chalked off for a push on the defender.
Dan Harding was given a stern ticking off for bringing down David Jones midway inside the United half, and Preston's Chris Lucketti received the same treatment when he sent Eddie Lewis tumbling.
Preston were forced into an early change after just quarter of an hour when David Jones picked up a knock and was replaced by David Nugent, a change which forced the visitors to play with two men upfront.
The visitors enjoyed a good spell midway through the half but thankfully were not able to hurt United with their possession.
Paul McKenna forced Sullivan into a save when he got in a good position on the right hand side of the area, his shot was comfortable for Sullivan though.
Then Leeds had Butler to thank for some good defending as he kept Nugent on a leash and prevented him from getting clear inside the 18-yard box.
The comedy moment of the game came when David Healy and referee Andy D'Urso collided on the half hour, sending the man in black crashing to the ground on his backside. The referee saw the funny side of it but he wasn't amused when Gary Kelly put in a late tackle on Callum Davidson and the yellow card came out for the United man.
Leeds were creating little and allowing Preston to see too much of the ball. Butler was forced to put a low cross into the box behind for a corner before Patrick Agyemang could tap in.
Miller was still busy and he might have done better with his next chance wehn he shot straight at the keeper from 25 yards out.
Preston had Chris Sedgwick booked for a foul on Dan Harding just before the break.
At half-time there was much both sides had to do to raise the entertainment value of this game.
Two minutes after the break Eddie Lewis was brought down on the edge of the area in a challenge that earned Preston skipper Chris Lucketti a yellow card. Miller lined up the free-kick but put it over the top.
Straight after Leeds missed another good chance when Gary Kelly swung in a great cross for Rob Hulse to meet smack back in the middle of the penalty box, but he put his header well over.
Preston were still having their moments though, Sedgwick should have done better when a mistake in the United back four presented him with a great chance to score ten yards out, but again the ball sailed over the crossbar.
Just after the hour mark David Nugent was booked for hauling down Frazer Richardson as the winger tried to get clear.
Lewis was barracked throughout by the Preston fans but he nearly shoved their taunts down their throats when he set Healy up, but Lucketti got back to make a saving tackle on the Northern Ireland striker.
Preston remained bright and full of attacking intent and only Neil Sullivan prevented them from going ahead when Nugent got clear and shot from 20-yards, Sullivan though managed to push the ball away.
Blake won a free-kick just outside the penalty area with eight minutes remaining but he couldn't break the deadlock with a shot that deflected wide for a corner. The substitue was unlucky not to make amends with his second chance from the corner as Derry headed it down into his path and he swivelled before getting the shot away, but Carlo Nash made his first real save of the game.
United escaped once again when Hill put in a great ball across the face of goal that Nugent met with only a soft glancing header wide. It was a glorious chance. Miller came off just before the end to good applause and was replaced by Ian Moore with Blackwell increasing his attacking options to try and nick a winner late on. Douglas had a shot late on when Hulse chested the ball back down to the Blackburn man, but he too couldn't change the outcome of this game, ending in a 0-0 draw.