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Last Updated: Tuesday, 23 August 2005, 21:16 GMT 22:16 UK
Leeds progress delights Blackwell
By Paul Fletcher

Leeds United manager Kevin Blackwell
This is a massive club - more like turning around an oil tanker than a speedboat
Kevin Blackwell
Leeds manager Kevin Blackwell insists his team are ahead of schedule as they plot their return to the Premiership.

"I would say we are ahead of where I expected us to be," said Blackwell. "I thought last season would definitely be about not getting relegated.

"Then this season would be about trying to get halfway up the table with a push for promotion in year three.

"Then the chairman Ken Bates came here in January and changed the whole dynamic and focus of the club."

The Yorkshire club seemed certain for a lengthy spell outside the top flight following their relegation from the Premiership at the end of the 2003-04 season.

The Leeds dream had turned into a nightmare - with debts of 100m and a constant battle to avoid administration.

And when Blackwell started his first pre-season as Leeds manager last summer he had a mere handful of players at his disposal.

Little over a year later the Leeds crisis has bottomed out and the club - currently fourth in the Championship table - seem strong candidates for promotion.

On Saturday United ended Wolves' 21-match unbeaten run and on Monday Blackwell bolstered his squad with the acquisition of striker Richard Cresswell from Preston for a fee believed to be in the region of 1m.

Cresswell is not the only signing Bates has sanctioned since taking over.

Rob Hulse signed from West Brom for 1m, Robbie Blake cost 800,000 from Birmingham and David Healy left Preston for an undisclosed fee.

To those accustomed to seeing Leeds stumble from one crisis to another, the sight of them spending money is surprising, but the reality is that Blackwell has assembled one of the division's best forward lines.

"I would never ever have imagined this time last year paying out any money to buy new players for anybody let alone 800,000 for Blake or 1m for Hulse," added Blackwell.

"We took radical, radical steps. The prudent management of the club and the hard aggressive sell of players to reduce the wages has been done quite well.

Leeds United striker Rob Hulse
Leeds paid more than 1m for Hulse

"This is especially so when you consider that clubs such as Derby and Sheff Weds are still carrying millions of debts after years outside the Premiership.

"We took the medicine and hammered it but in hindsight it has allowed us to evolve quicker than I anticipated."

And the sight of Leeds selling to survive is also over.

The vultures no longer hover over Elland Road - mostly because all the high-profile internationals have gone but also because Leeds no longer need to sell.

"All I will do now is assess each move on its merit but the good thing is I no longer have to do deals," added Blackwell.

"I have turned down three offers for players because we are not a selling club anymore whereas in January had I not sold Scott Carson we would not have been able to pay the wages.

"There has been a major sea change in the attitude and how we see the situation - now players will only leave if we think it benefits the club."

It has been a rough road for all involved in Leeds but the clouds are lifting and optimism is returning to LS11.

And Blackwell is hopeful that for all the personnel changes at the club, the one group that could do nothing but look on in horror will finally have something to shout about.

"The fans have been a credit to football," said the manager. "From living the dream to having a constant nightmare their support has been unwavering.

"Nothing but bad news a real drip drip effect and hopefully we can repay their loyalty by turning the club around.

"I feel that if we get the rub of the green we are capable of being up there."


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