The season in which Leeds United's rise back to the top first began

LEEDS United had every reason to believe that it would be sixth-time lucky in the 1987-88 campaign, that promotion back to the country’s top division would be sealed at the sixth time of asking.

Saturday, 24th October 2020, 4:45 pm

Instead, in the season that followed United’s play-offs heartbreak, a sixth consecutive season in the second tier ultimately ended with a seventh-placed finish.

The following summer, Whites boss Billy Bremner once again set out looking to finally work the oracle in the 1988-89 campaign.

Instead, just one month into the new season, Bremner found himself sacked after just one win from United’s opening six games.

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GAME CHANGER: Gordon Strachan signs on the dotted line to join Leeds United from Manchester United on March 23, 1989, joining new boss Howard Wilkinson, left, in dropping down a division. The only way was then up. Photo by YPN.

Once again, another promotion bid ended in disappointment and this time an even worse tenth-placed finish.

Yet this time Leeds were ultimately on their way back in the longer term with the 88-89 campaign marking the appointment of new boss Howard Wilkinson who would eventually make United not just Division Two champions but the best team in the land in another four years’ time.

Just as he had done in the previous summers, Bremner looked to ring the changes in the off season with the Whites boss making a double raid on recently relegated Portsmouth to sign Noel Blake and Vince Hilaire.

In addition to Ian Baird, Bremner’s side now had three ex-Pompey players in their ranks and after an opening day 1-1 draw at home to Oxford United, United’s second test took in a trip to Fratton Park.

KEY RECRUIT: Chris Fairclough, centre, who joined the Whites from Tottenham Hotspur. Photo by YPN.

Yet as part of a truly miserable day on the south coast, Portsmouth romped to a 4-0 victory in a match in which Baird was sent off.

For Bremner, it proved the beginning of the end with the legendary former Leeds player who had taken the Whites so close to promotion as a manager sacked at the end of September with United second-bottom on just six points from a possible 18.

There were then raised eyebrows when Leeds managed to recruit Wilkinson as Bremner’s replacement with Wilkinson leaving Sheffield Wednesday who were in the top half of the top division.

Wilkinson arrived with his former Brighton team mate and Owls coach Mick Hennigan and almost inevitably plenty of changes were afoot over the remainder of the campaign.

What would prove one of the club’s most important signings ever arrived the following March when Wilkinson landed Gordon Strachan from Manchester United as the Scotland international dropped down a division.

As part of the campaign as a whole, winger Carl Shutt also followed Wilkinson to Leeds from Hillsborough with the likes of Andy Williams, Mike Whitlow and Neil Parsley also recruited.

Out went Bob Taylor, Mickey Adams, Peter Swan, Jack Ashurst and Vince Brockie.

Wilkinson won his first game in charge via a 3-1 triumph at home to Peterborough United in a second round League Cup tie.

Three draws then followed before Wilkinson’s first league win arrived in a 2-1 triumph at home to Hull City with goals from John Sheridan and Ian Baird.

Suddenly the victories began to flow.

Any promotion bid was already long gone yet the 23rd placing that Leeds occupied when Wilkinson took over was soon forgotten as the Whites sealed a tenth-placed finish as part of the season in which Arsenal were crowned champions of England in the most dramatic of circumstances with a late Michael Thomas strike at Liverpool.

The Gunners were champions of England - and in three years’ time that mantle would be taken by Wilkinson’s Leeds though the first step was, of course, to get out of the second tier.

With two huge signings in Strachan and also Chris Fairclough having been landed, United would not have to wait long.

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Thank you Laura Collins