Leeds United nostalgia: Wembley defeat beginning of the end for Blackwell

Leeds United manager Kevin Blackwell against Coventry City in his final league game on September 15, 2006.
Leeds United manager Kevin Blackwell against Coventry City in his final league game on September 15, 2006.
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Kevin Blackwell always wondered how different things might have been had a header from David Healy away at Coventry City found the net instead of hitting the crossbar.

The moment was crucial in Blackwell’s final game as manager of Leeds United but a better result at the Ricoh Stadium would only have delayed the inevitable. The club and their chairman, Ken Bates were losing patience with the coach who took them to the Championship play-off final three months earlier.

A 1-0 loss at Coventry on September 16, 2006 – inflicted by a Stern John strike, soon after David Healy struck the woodwork – was not quite the end of Blackwell’s reign.

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Leeds left him in charge for a League Cup win over Barnet three days later before sacking him the following afternoon.

“At the end of the day you stand or fall by your results,” Bates said. “Kevin did a good job but maybe he had taken the club as far as he could. Maybe it was time for a change.”

Bates painted the parting of ways as an amicable affair but the reality was far more bitter. United dismissed Blackwell for gross misconduct, taking issue with comments made by him about the financial state of the club. Leeds were beginning to feel the pinch badly by then and the 2006-07 season ended with the club in administration. Blackwell had spotted signs of trouble and spoken about them openly to the media after a summer in which many of his favoured transfer targets went by the wayside.

With hindsight, United’s defeat to Watford in the play-off final in May 2006 was the beginning of the end for him. His squad had reached the top six comfortably but several of his senior players were aging and the atmosphere in the dressing room began to deteriorate. When Dennis Wise replaced Blackwell as United’s boss he wasted no time in isolating Paul Butler and Sean Gregan.

Blackwell, who took the manager’s job in the wake of Leeds’ relegation from the Premiership in 2004, went out with a record of 44 wins and 33 defeats from 114 games in charge.

The first eight league fixtures of the 2006-07 season yielded only two victories and the loss to Coventry followed on from an injury-time defeat to Wolves and a hammering at home by Roy Keane’s Sunderland. Leeds were prone to late concessions in finely-balanced contests.

“I’d actually decided that I would take a view at the end of September when we’d played 10 games,” Bates told The Yorkshire Post. “That would still leave 36 to go.

“Let’s just say things conspired against Kevin and I made an early decision. The entire board – Peter Lorimer, Yvonne Todd, Jayne McGuinness, Mark Taylor, Shaun Harvey and myself – were unanimous. So that was it.

“Kevin was gobsmacked because he didn’t see it coming, though he must have wondered how long it could carry on.”

Speaking a few months later, Blackwell said: “I didn’t want to leave Leeds. I was given a job which, for me, was the best job you could ever have. I felt it was taken away from me too cheaply.

“We started poorly, I accept that, but I still look at all the late goals we conceded and smile to myself.

“Against QPR, Crystal Palace, Cardiff City and Wolves – the last five minutes of every game was so expensive.

“But is it right for a manager to go at that stage? I’d reached the play-off final the previous season. So yes, I do feel bitter about it.”

Sunderland boss Simon Grayson.

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