A YEAR ago Leeds United returned to Championship action after the March international break with a spring in their step.
With eight games remaining the Elland Road club were eight points clear of the chasing pack in the race for the play-offs so it was no wonder supporters headed to Reading on April 1 in buoyant mood.
But we have all got to know our roles in helping to achieve the club get back there and we have all got to understand how hard it is going to be.Paul Heckingbottom
Defeat that day, however, triggered a dramatic collapse that saw United’s promotion hopes go up in smoke. A year on and Leeds, marooned in mid-table, feel as far away from that elusive Premier League return as ever.
Not that this will be reflected in today’s crowd with more than 33,000 tickets having been sold for a fixture that has little but pride at stake for the hosts.
“I have been in and about the place for a few weeks now and we have got to fight tooth and nail to get back up there,” said head coach Paul Heckingbottom, the latest man charged with the task of returning Leeds to an elite stage they last trod in 2004.
“It is not going to be given to us. I have mentioned before about what we are competing against, the finances of the other clubs coming down and the parachute payments and things like that.
“But we have all got to know our roles in helping to achieve the club get back there and we have all got to understand how hard it is going to be.
“But that will only make it that more rewarding when it does happen.”
Heckingbottom goes head-to-head today with Phil Parkinson, the former Bradford City manager. Bolton are keen to avenge their opening-day loss to United, the first of a 12-game winless run that seemed to point towards the Lancashire club making an instant return to the third tier.
However, a remarkable turnaround since breaking that duck with a win over Sheffield Wednesday in October means Parkinson’s side arrive in the West Riding six points clear of the relegation zone.
Heckingbottom, who is set to welcome back Samuel Saiz, said: “I was surprised with the run at the start because I saw a lot of them in the league before they came up and how strong they were. It shows how tough this league is.
“Bolton have developed a clear identity of how they want to play. They have been difficult to play against.
“They compete and work for every ball and that is something we have to manage. We have to match that and then try and impose ourselves on them. We have to show our qualities.”
Last six games: Leeds United DDWLLDL Bolton Wanderers WDLDDW.
Referee: G Eltringham (Tyne & Wear).
Last time: Leeds United 2 Bolton Wanderers 1; March 5, 2016; Championship.