Leeds United nostalgia: A case of what might have been for Blake

Robbie Blake.
Robbie Blake.
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Robbie Blake may have dropped down a division to join Leeds United, but there was never any doubt that Leeds had signed the sort of player that they needed to escape The Championship.

Ruthlessly fought over by a certain segment of the Premier League before he joined Birmingham City, Blake had established himself as a top performer in the second tier at Burnley, scoring 66 goals in 120 appearances for the Clarets.

After a protracted transfer saga, Blake signed for Birmingham for £1.25m, but failed to establish himself at St Andrews, making only 11 league appearances. From here, he joined Leeds as part of Kevin Blackwell’s promotion push.

Blake was disappointed not to have done better at Birmingham, but had no doubts about making the move to Yorkshire.

“It might be a step down in divisions, but it’s a step up in terms of the club I’m joining,” said Blake at the time.

“Leeds United are one of the biggest and best clubs in the country – they are up there in the top five.

“Personally, to be given the opportunity of playing for Leeds is an honour. I’ve joined a big, big club with fantastic supporters.” Blake impressed quickly at Leeds, scoring his first goal for the club in his second game at Ninian Park against Cardiff City. Over the course of his first season, Leeds pushed for promotion and Blake played an integral role, scoring 11 goals in 31 starts, relatively involved given that the team was flush with striking options.

Of course, that season ended in misery for Leeds, as they missed out on promotion to the Premier League by falling to Watford at the Millennium Stadium. The conservative nature of manager Kevin Blackwell has often been blamed for that particular failure, and a symbolic example of that was the presence of Robbie Blake and fellow striker David Healy on the bench.

Blake entered the fray at half-time, by which point Leeds were already a goal down, and Healy, a star in what had been, up to that point, a successful season, was only given the last half an hour after Leeds had conceded a second.

The departure of Blackwell after the following season’s poor start led to Blake being favoured under Dennis Wise.

Eight goals over the course of the season represented a decent return, but poor performances and administration combined to send United down to the third tier for the first time in their history.

Blake would leave Leeds following that relegation, heading back across The Pennines to Burnley, where he had previously made his name.

Despite being 31 years old, he settled in quickly at Burnley. After almost sending them to the League Cup Final in 2009, he continued his good form and the campaign ended in success as Burnley were promoted through the play-offs.

For Leeds fans, it was a case of wondering what might have been, especially when Blake scored to give Burnley a 1-0 win against Manchester United in their first top flight home game for 33 years.

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Picture: Bruce Rollinson

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