Leeds United, Sheffield United, Barnsley and Doncaster Rovers launch Easter hunt for cherished golden egg

Survival: Bradford City's Dean Windass celebrates with Champagne after his side avoided relegation by beating Liverpool in 2000 after a successful Easter.
Survival: Bradford City's Dean Windass celebrates with Champagne after his side avoided relegation by beating Liverpool in 2000 after a successful Easter.
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FOOTBALLERS and their jaded limbs may not agree but there has always been something special about the Easter weekend.

The double-headers that the Premier League gave up a dozen years ago invariably throw up excitement and tension in equal measure, especially if – as is the case this year – the moveable feast falls towards the end of April.

Easter was late and those four points really kicked us on. A lot of teams will be thinking they can do the same this year. A good Easter, and who knows what will happen?

Dean Windass

Enjoy a good Easter and the promotion or title success everyone has worked so hard for over the preceding nine months is almost at hand.

Suffer a holiday from hell, however, and the dream can be almost over. Leeds United and Sheffield United, locked in a race for the Premier League, will be well aware of this heading into this veritable roller-coaster of football fortunes, as will League One duo Barnsley and Doncaster Rovers.

The White Rose quartet are all firmly in the hunt for promotion and know a successful Easter hunt for six points is likely to make all the difference.

Ditto Rotherham United, desperate to breathe fresh life into their own Championship survival hopes when tackling Swansea City and Birmingham City inside four days.

One man who knows all about how this time of year can make or break a season is Dean Windass.

He was part of the Bradford City side who were six points adrift of safety in the Premier League with just five games to play in 2000 only to be brought back to life by an Easter haul of four points.

“We played Derby on Good Friday,” recalls the 50-year-old to The Yorkshire Post about a crazy game featuring four penalties and a red card for Rory Delap.

“They were one of the teams down there with us so we were both desperate for points. ‘Wethers’ (defender David Wetherall) played up front that day and we worked all week on hitting him long and me latching on to the knockdowns.

“The plan worked brilliantly and I had a hat-trick before half-time. We were 2-0 down early on but drew 4-4. Paul Jewell (then City manager) likened it to a Sunday League game, almost like, ‘You score, we score’.

“We then had to go to Sunderland on Easter Monday. They were a good side back then and no-one gave us a chance. But ‘Tumble’ (John Dreyer) got the winner and that really pushed us on.

“His celebration was great afterwards. He ran to the corner and screamed, ‘We can do it’ as all the lads piled on top of him. We took the mickey out of ‘Tumble’ in training every day after that.

“But he was right. After getting those four points, we won two of the last three to stay up.”

Since the turn of the Millennium, Bradford are far from the only Yorkshire side to have had their fate effectively settled by an Easter break that falls as late as this year.

Five years ago, for instance, York City were eighth in League Two and a point behind Oxford United and Southend United.

Back-to-back holiday wins over the U’s and Bury, and the Minstermen were on their way to the play-offs.

Playing twice in quick succession can, of course, work the other way if a team suddenly falls out of form.

In 2011, Leeds United were two points clear of the chasing pack in the race for the Championship play-offs with just four games left. A draw at home to Reading and a 1-0 loss at Crystal Palace later, however, and Simon Grayson’s men had slipped to ninth.

Nigel Pearson’s Hull City were also firmly in the hunt for the top six that year but also claimed just one point from a possible six to crush those play-off hopes.

Completing the quartet of Easters that have fallen towards the end of April since the turn of the Millennium is 2003, a year when Huddersfield Town were battling against relegation to the basement division. After starting the holiday weekend with a battling goalless draw at home to champions-elect Wigan Athletic, the third-bottom Terriers took an early lead at Stockport County two days later through Andy Booth but ultimately lost 2-1.

Town never recovered and relegation followed with the club five points adrift of safety.

Another to stumble at Easter is Rotherham United, who in the same year Bradford and Windass pulled off their ‘Great Escape’ allowed the initiative in the Third Division title race to swing the way of Swansea City.

The Millers, two points clear going into the holiday, failed to recover from a 1-0 loss at Barnet as the Swans claimed not only a maximum six points but also, two weeks later, the silverware.

Those Yorkshire sides either chasing promotion or battling against the drop right now will be hoping Easter 2019 is remembered for all the right reasons.

Windass added: “Easter changed everything at Bradford in 2000 and I am sure plenty of clubs have felt the same down the years.

“No-one gave us a chance of staying up. But Easter was late and those four points really kicked us on. A lot of teams will be thinking they can do the same this year.

“A good Easter, and who knows what will happen?”