Leeds target top-flight return

SO hot are Leeds United at the moment that manager Kevin Blackwell did not want a long break between his side's win over Sheffield Wednesday and their clash with Ipswich.

By Derek Davis

SO hot are Leeds United at the moment that manager Kevin Blackwell did not want a long break between his side's win over Sheffield Wednesday and their clash with Ipswich.

But a request to play the game during the blank FA Cup weekend for both teams was rejected due to logistical reasons and United arrive for tonight's game champing at the bit for revenge after waiting even longer to reverse the 2-0 defeat at Elland Road in September.

Blackwell said: “The team has been playing well and the win against Sheffield Wednesday was part of a good sequence for us and we did not really want a long break.

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“We asked to play this game at the weekend but Ipswich had already sold more than 22,000 tickets for the game so it was not possible.”

A big factor in Leeds' rich vein of form is their abundance of in-form strikers.

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So endowed are Leeds, that Kevin Blackwell has allowed Michael Ricketts to join Burnley on loan for the rest of the season and Ian Moore could also be heading out for a temporary spell elsewhere.

They are even paying £20,000-a-week towards Robbie Fowler's wages, even though the man with a nose for goals moved to Liverpool from Manchester City last week.

Fowler's situation is a symptom of the madness that engulfed Leeds during their recent heyday and they must continue to contribute towards his salary until the summer of this year.

There is no doubt Blackwell could find a better use for that money, and the millions more squandered but, under new chairman Ken Bates' stewardship, he has found enough cash to put Leeds into a strong position to move back into the Premiership.

Although Watford leapfrogged them into third with a weekend win over Crewe, United can reclaim that spot just outside the automatic top two with a win tonight.

Perceived wisdom would indicate that catching second-placed Sheffield United, who are 12 points ahead of them, may be a step too steep, although five wins and a draw in seven games shows Leeds are heading in the right direction.

A reason in part for that recent run are the goals by £1.15m striker Richard Cresswell, who has filled in admirably for the injured Rob Hulse, whose 10 goals have all been in the Championship.

Cresswell's form has also made it hard for David Healy to get back in the side after injury, and the Northern Ireland international, who famously netted the winner against England, is the club's top scorer on 12.

Robbie Blake has been chosen as the Bridlington-born striker's foil of late and the man that Joe Royle wanted to take on loan from Leeds at the beginning of the season has weighed in with seven goals.

Cresswell, who also terrorised Town when he was at Preston, has banged in four goals in his last six league outings for Leeds and Blackwell is convinced the 28-year-old has even more to offer.

Blackwell said: “In the league games Cresswell has carried the mantle for us. He has played barely more than a dozen games for us and so is still just bedding in.

“It may take some time before he is at his best but the signs are good.

“There is nothing between my four main strikers at the minute so I'm able to change things around without weakening us.

“We put together an exciting strike force at the beginning of the season but it has only been since Christmas that we have really seen it.”

Leeds have further strengthened by adding loanees Liam Miller from Manchester United, and Jonathan Douglas from Blackburn to their midfield.

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