Leeds United v Blackburn Rovers: Omens point towards United title hat-trick

RARELY have the omens been quite as firnly on Leeds United's side.

Leeds United's Kemar Roofe celebrates scoring his side's third goal of the game during the Sky Bet Championship match at Villa Park, Birmingham.

Top of the table at the halfway stage, the Elland Road club are looking to emulate the last 10 teams to look down on the rest of the Championship from the summit heading into the Boxing Day programme by going on to seal automatic promotion.

As if that was not enough to gladden Leeds’s hearts this festive season, a look back at the club’s last two promotions to the top flight also reveals that Marcelo Bielsa’s men are firmly on course to emulate the feats of their predecessors, who sported the famous white shirt under Don Revie and Howard Wilkinson.

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Leeds under Revie led the old Second Division at Christmas 55 years ago and went on to finish the season as champions, just as Wilkinson’s side did in the 1989-90 campaign that ended with the West Riding club again finishing top.

“It is a nice headline,” said Kemar Roofe, fresh from scoring the dramatic last-gasp winner at Aston Villa on Sunday that took United back into pole position, when asked about the pointers that suggest this could be the club’s year.

“But that is all it is. We do not look at that, we do not get carried away with anything. We were in again the day after Villa, working hard, and then we have got another game on Boxing Day.

“I am not the sort to even look at the league table. It does not bother me.

“The only plan is to keep the run going, that would be very nice. We need to keep building the momentum and carry it into the next game to get another three points.”

Unusually those last two promotion seasons at Elland Road saw Leeds’s Boxing Day opponents go on to join them in the top flight the following season.

Blackburn Rovers, sitting 14th in the table after 23 games, are unlikely to follow the example of Sunderland in 1963-64 and Sheffield United 16 years later by finishing as runners-up this time around.

But Leeds appreciate better than most the threat posed by Tony Mowbray’s men having suffered one of just three defeats this term at Ewood Park back in October.

That loss to Rovers was Roofe’s first outing in seven weeks following injury and the memory remains vivid.

“It would be nice to get one over them,” the 11-goal striker told The Yorkshire Post. “But it will be another tough game and that is the thing in this league – every game is tough. Bottom or top, it doesn’t matter – they are all difficult.”

Leeds tackle Rovers on the back of a six-game winning run, but even this stirring sequence of results have not been without their own difficulties.

Bolton Wanderers, Reading and Queens Park Rangers all made Bielsa’s men work hard for three points that could on each occasion be firmly placed in the ‘ground out’ category, while it took a calamitous mistake from Dean Henderson to gift United a 1-0 win at Sheffield United.

Then, just three days ago, Aston Villa raced into a two-goal lead inside the opening 17 minutes only for Leeds to hit back in fine style as Roofe netted their last-gasp winner.

“I had grown up round there,” said the Walsall-born forward, a graduate from West Bromwich Albion’s Academy.

“I have played against Aston Villa throughout my whole life from Academy level.

“Villa Park is an incredible stadium and atmosphere. I have scored when they came to our place, but I have never really done much when I have played at their place before.

“I missed my daughter’s birthday party (on Sunday) as well, but the winner made it worth it, a special moment for me.

“To get the winner – so late as well – after being 2-0 down was incredible.”

Bielsa will check on the fitness of Patrick Bamford after the £7m summer signing missed the win at Villa Park with a knee injury sustained the previous afternoon when landing awkwardly in training.

Barry Douglas is expected to return after illness forced his late withdrawal on Sunday, while Tyler Roberts could be available for the first time since November.

Jack Clarke is pushing for a first start following the huge impact he made once again as a half-time substitute although Bielsa has previously indicated he is wary of asking too much, too soon of the York-born teenager.

“He deserves all the limelight right now,” said Roofe about Clarke, who has now made eight appearances from the bench. “He is young, he is new to this and every time he keeps coming on he keeps making an impact.

“It just builds the confidence and builds the experience as well. We have got a good player.”

Last six games: Leeds United WWWWWW Blackburn Rovers LLWDDL.

Referee: S Martin (Staffordshire).

Last time: Leeds United 1 Blackburn Rovers 0; September 20, 2016; League Cup.