By Mark Rasdall
Although I can't be there at Ewood Park with the 6,800 travelling Leeds United fans on Saturday, I will be there in spirit as I was nearly ten years ago when we played Blackburn Rovers on 10th April 2004. We got an early goal through Stephen Caldwell and then Mark Viduka scored just before the end. Being Leeds of course that wasn't the end. Craig Short got a goal back in injury time for Rovers to shred our nerves even further but we held on for a second consecutive Premier League win - for the first time in what was a miserable season for LUFC.
We all remember Viduka for the game at Bolton of course but on that April afternoon we and Eddie Gray thought he was going to repeat the heroics of the previous season (remember that goal against Arsenal?) and keep us up. He didn't and we were relegated with the same number of points (33) as Leicester and vile Dave Jones's Wolves. Our goal difference was a terrible -39: the same as Wolves.
Brad Friedel was in goal for Rovers that day and Paul Robinson for Leeds. We also had Alan Smith up front while they had Andy Cole. It all seems such a long while ago doesn't it and, when you look at the four teams just above us who narrowly avoided relegation themselves: Everton, Manchester City, Blackburn and Tottenham it is a stark reminder of how much has changed in football's top tier.
So here we are again except now we're in the Championship and fighting out for a promotion slot with Leicester again and possibly Blackburn if they became more consistent and kept Jordan Rhodes fit. They beat Middlesboro at home (who doesn't!) but also lost at Ewood to Charlton. None of these results against teams we've also faced will have any bearing on Saturday of course. We have hit form again and are scoring goals from many more chances created. The -39 goal difference is hopefully behind us forever but the ambition to repeat our 2004 win at one of the league's oldest grounds must be as high as ever.
That game in 2004 was played under tremendous pressure for both teams. We're not at the business end of the season yet but what an investment it would be in our future plans to come away with at least a point. Even if we lose I really hope the fickleness doesn't return with the tired and deflating knee-jerk reactions just undermining everyone again. Every Leeds United fan is entitled to their opinion but I hope we can start taking a longer view of things again now and rebuild the club properly.
I for one would not wish to go back ten years and be in the Premier League, listening to the game on 5 Live or watching it in person; it wasn't fun, it was painful. Even after we won that game I still worried that we might go down. I'd far rather be worrying about going up and being pretty confident that we'd have the club and squad to survive if we did. I think we're on our way again and who knows where we will be in 2024; it could be Ewood Park because, after all, chickens do fly...
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