Cardiff City’s bench has something of a Nightmare Before Christmas feel to it for Whites, with ghosts of Leeds bosses past having masterminded the Welsh club’s promotion to the big time last season.
Long before their main man Neil Warnock nestled into the Elland Road hotseat came Blackwell’s basket case of a reign, which officially started off the back of relegation from the top tier 14 years ago this week.
It was an unenviable task that would go on to get within one game of the ultimate success.
A play-off final hammering at the hands of Watford provided the most memorable plot point of an ultimately sad and whimpering two-and-a-bit season tenure for Blackwell.
To say Leeds fans were underwhelmed by his appointment would be putting it lightly.
Whilst cooling rapidly, the club was still lukewarm in the glow of title charges and a European Cup semi-final, and with bigger name managers in the frame, that the former Sheffield United goalkeeper was the chosen one was a sobering reflection of Leeds’ blink-and-you’ll-miss-it decline.
Predictably, early results were poor from a side hastily thrown together at a club in financial meltdown.
This was Blackwell’s first managerial role and many wondered whether his might be a short stint in the limelight. A 14th-place finish in a first season that half-dallied with the notion of a run at the play-offs was largely uneventful, an achievement in itself given the state of the club.
His was a pragmatic and unattractive style of football that disillusioned the Elland Road faithful at times, the coarse pub scrapping of Rob Hulse, Brian Deane and latterly Geoff Horsfield unable to distract from the tipsy hangover that David O’Leary’s fancy parties in Madrid and Milan had left over.
But for a few happy months, Blackwell was their man. The 2005/06 season, Blackwell’s second, was a manic scramble in the upper regions of the division, eight wins in 10 over the Christmas period offering Leeds fans a glimpse into a return to the big time.
Excitingly, Blackwell’s Leeds developed a reputation for taking it to teams away from home. With Hulse, David Healy and Robbie Blake providing unflashy but effective firepower up top and the defence conceding only 38 goals in the season, Leeds were a force to be reckoned with.
One win in their last 10 games dashed any hope of catching promoted Sheffield United and runaway champions Reading, but having been held to a 1-1 draw at home, a famous 2-0 play-off semi-final win at Deepdale provided most with the happiest memories of the tenure.
Blown away in the final 3-0 by a more polished Watford side, Leeds’ deteriorating finances worsened, and Blackwell was sacked eight games into the next season with the Whites 23rd in the league.
Retrospective accusations around Blackwell’s conduct around the club raised eyebrows.
There were rumours that he would pander to the bigger personalities in the changing room, unable to control them, and that towards quieter personalities his ‘firm but fair’ style of management often lacked fairness.
Blackwell would go on to manage Luton, Sheffield United and Bury before taking the step back into coaching alongside Warnock in 2014. In a nine-month tour starting from August, the ghosts of Leeds United past are coming to a Premier League ground near you.