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Preview: Leeds United vs. Blackburn Rovers

Sports Mole looks ahead to Saturday's Championship meeting between Leeds United and Blackburn Rovers at Elland Road.

While all eyes will be on either end of the Championship table over a crucial Easter weekend, Leeds United and Blackburn Rovers will do battle in their own mini-league for a place in the top half.

Only two points separate the teams with seven matches of the season to go, and victory for either side this weekend would give their top-12 hopes a telling boost.



Leeds United

Leeds caretaker manager Neil Redfearn shouts instructions during the npower Championship match between Charlton Athletic and Leeds United at the Valley on April 06, 2013© Getty Images

It has been another turbulent campaign for Leeds, but under the circumstances a top-half finish would go down as a successful season for the Yorkshire outfit.

Controversial owner Massimo Cellino has come and gone, but the club will hope that his target of a Premier League return within two years is still a realistic and achievable goal.

It certainly seems a lot closer now than it would have done earlier in the campaign, when relegation was the primary concern and off-field issues plagued the club.

Stability may be the key to a top-flight return, with Neil Redfearn enjoying a good run of form as manager following short and unsuccessful stints from Dave Hockaday and Darko Milanic at the helm.

However, trouble rarely seems to abandon Leeds for too long, and Redfearn's position was plunged into doubt this week when assistant coach Steve Thompson was suspended. Redfearn admitted to feeling undermined by the decision, as well as saying that he is considering his future.

Any departure is certainly not going to be down to on-field matters. The Whites are unbeaten in five games and have lost just three of their 15 league matches since the turn of the year. Indeed, they have amassed more points in 2015 than the likes of Bournemouth, Derby County and Ipswich Town, all of whom are chasing promotion.

As a result, victory on Saturday would see Leeds climb into the top half, although an improvement will be needed from their most recent outing, when they were held to a 1-1 draw by bottom-of-the-table Blackpool.

Gary Madine's goal in that match is the only one Leeds have conceded in their last four outings, though, and for all their troubles this season, only three teams outside the playoff places can boast a better defensive record.

Recent form: LWWDWD



Blackburn Rovers

Manager of Blackburn Rovers Gary Bowyer looks on during the Sky Bet Championship match between Blackburn Rovers and Derby County at Ewood Park on September 17, 2014© Getty Images

Blackburn could be forgiven for letting their minds wander ahead of this weekend's match, with a late playoff charge out of reach and relegation not on their radar.

Bigger tests and more alluring rewards lie ahead next Wednesday as Rovers welcome Liverpool to Ewood Park for their long-awaited FA Cup quarter-final replay.

A last-four meeting with Aston Villa at Wembley awaits the winners, and Gary Bowyer's priorities must surely be with the potential of silverware.

It may have been different had Blackburn kept pace with the top six, but inconsistency has reared its ugly head yet again for the club to leave them 13 points adrift with seven games remaining.

They looked to be shaping up for a late playoff bid with three consecutive league victories at the start of March, but back-to-back defeats before the international break have put paid to those hopes.

Bowyer's side have not lost three on the bounce for more than a year, however, and their away form has outshone their record at Ewood Park in recent weeks.

Blackburn are unbeaten in their last five outings on the road, including a goalless draw at Anfield, while at home they have won just one of their last five.

While the appeal of next week's FA Cup clash with Liverpool could distract the visitors somewhat, Bowyer will be keen to stress the importance of going into that match off the back of a good result and performance.

Recent form: DWWWLL
Recent form (all competitions): WDWWLL



Team News

Andre Gray of Brentford tackles Lewis Cook of Leeds during the Sky Bet Championship match between Brentford and Leeds United at Griffin Park on September 27, 2014© Getty Images

Leeds have been hit by the news that Lewis Cook picked up ankle ligament damage while on international duty and, while the severity of the problem is yet to be confirmed, he will miss the Easter period.

Rodolph Austin is pushing for a first start in over a month, but otherwise Redfearn has little reason to change the side that shared the spoils with Blackpool last time out.

Mirko Antenucci could be one to come into the team after he scored the equaliser off the bench in that match, though.

Bowyer has a number of players nearing a return from injury, including striker Josh King, but Jason Lowe and Shane Duffy remain sidelined and will not feature again this season.

Rudy Gestede is pushing for a recall despite scoring just twice in his last 14 games, while Jordan Rhodes - who has three goals in his last two games against Leeds - is also expected to start up front.

Leeds possible starting lineup:
Silvestri; Wootton, Bamba, Bellusci, Berardi; Murphy, Austin, Byram, Mowatt, Taylor; Antenucci

Blackburn possible starting lineup:
Steele; Henley, Baptiste, Kilgallon, Olsson; Taylor, Spearing, Cairney, Marshall; Gestede, Rhodes



Head To Head

There was drama aplenty in the reverse fixture at Ewood Park in November, with 10-man Blackburn coming from behind to win 2-1. Rhodes got both goals for his side, the second of which came from the penalty spot in the 88th minute to clinch the points.

That result made it six games in a row in which Leeds have failed to beat Rovers, with Bowyer's side coming out on top on the last three occasions.

Leeds's last victory in this fixture came more than 10 years ago when Steven Caldwell and Mark Viduka helped them to a 2-1 win at Ewood Park in the Premier League. Their last triumph at Elland Road came earlier that season by the same scoreline thanks to a Seth Johnson brace.



Video Preview

Hit play below to see what the Sports Mole Sofa had to say about this encounter:



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We say: Leeds 1-1 Blackburn

Leeds go into this match in good form, but the departure of Thompson could unsettle things. Blackburn's recent away record has also been impressive and they may settle for a draw with Liverpool lying in wait next week. A share of the spoils could well suit both sides under the circumstances.



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Leeds caretaker manager Neil Redfearn shouts instructions during the npower Championship match between Charlton Athletic and Leeds United at the Valley on April 06, 2013
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Saturday's key events


TRIATHLON
· After silvers in both the men's and women's events, Team GB will be fancied to get on the podium again in the mixed relay (11.30pm-1am)

SWIMMING
· Touted as Michael Phelps's successor, Caeleb Dressel already has two gold medals from these Games and he will be going for a third in the men's 50m butterfly final (2.30am)
· It is Katie Ledecky vs. Ariarne Titmus III in the women's 800m freestyle final, with Ledecky entering as firm favourite (2.46am)
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· Dina Asher-Smith is one of three British women in the 100m semi-finals (3.01am-3.20am), and will hope to challenge for a medal in what is likely to be a star-studded final (1.50pm)
· The inaugural Olympic 4x400m mixed relay event concludes with Great Britain one of the eight finalists going for gold (1.35pm)

RUGBY SEVENS
· Team GB's dreams of an unlikely gold are still alive in the women's event as they face France in their semi-final (3.30am). The winners will face either New Zealand or Fiji in the gold medal match later in the day (10am)

SAILING
· Gold medals are up for grabs in the windsurfer - RS:X finals. Emma Wilson participates for Team GB in the women's final (6.33am), while Tom Squires is in action in the men's (7.33am)

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· Following his shock semi-final defeat, ending his hopes of a Golden Slam in 2021, Novak Djokovic battles for bronze against Pablo Carreno Busta (7am)
· The women's singles event reaches its conclusion with the gold medal match between Belinda Bencic and Marketa Vondrousova

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