Two league champions of the 1990s go head-to-head this weekend, and for one it is an opportunity to move another step closer to recreating Premier League glory days.
While Blackburn Rovers are still in the thick of the Championship play-off picture, the focus will inevitably be on Leeds United as their quest to return to the top flight after 16 years in exile draws closer to its conclusion.
Things haven’t been all smooth for them since the season restarted a fortnight ago with four points from three games, although it wouldn’t be wrong to suggest that the performance in the 3-0 win over Fulham last weekend was the worst so far, having dominated both Cardiff City and Luton Town only to drop points.
Tuesday night’s 1-1 draw with Luton would not have been unfamiliar to the fans watching from television screens; they have seen it with their own eyes already, several times. They had 75% possession, 23 shots and nine on target, while limiting their relegation-threatened visitors to just three efforts and two on target. The lack of clinical edge cost them again though, with only Stuart Dallas netting after Leeds fell behind early in the second half.
That Marcelo Bielsa’s side are the most dominant in the division could be in little dispute, but the usual shortcomings mean that automatic promotion is not secured yet. Their advantage over third place is six points with as many matches still to play, but Brentford’s sensational restart means neither Leeds nor West Bromwich Albion, a point behind in second, can pop open the bubbly just yet.
A win at Ewood Park will be a big stride in the direction of the Premier League, but only three teams have gone to Blackburn and returned with maximum points this season. Rovers are among the vast pack chasing a play-off place, although consecutive 2-0 defeats at lowly Wigan Athletic and Barnsley have given them a five-point gap to make up. For their own hopes of a top-flight return, another loss would be decisive.
Blackburn aren’t having any luck on the injury front at the moment, with Lewis Travis, Amari’i Bell, Derrick Williams, Corry Evans and Joe Rankin-Costello all sidelined.
Their options haven’t been helped by Ben Brereton’s three-match ban for the violent conduct which saw him dismissed at Barnsley in midweek, although they are at least expected to welcome back John Buckley and Darragh Lenihan.
Leeds are likely to require a rejig of the back four, with neither Dallas (hamstring) nor skipper Liam Cooper (leg) training since coming off in the Luton draw.
Blackburn: Walton; Nyambe, Adarabioyo, Lenihan, Bennett; Downing, Johnson, Rothwell; Holtby, Gallagher, Armstrong.
Leeds: Meslier; Ayling, White, Berardi, Alioski; Phillips; Costa, Klich, Hernandez, Harrison; Bamford.
What the managers have said
Blackburn manager Tony Mowbray says that his side need the fine margins to go their way after back-to-back defeats.
He said: “There will be Rovers fans who are so frustrated that we’ve not won games this week, as we all are, but that’s what happens in football sometimes.
“If somebody misses a chance or makes a mistake, those are the fine margins you get in the Championship.
“After two defeats it might not feel like we’re on an upward curve, but I feel the two defeats are a blip that we need to turn around and keep moving forward.”
Leeds put Kelvin Phillips in front of the media ahead of the clash, and the midfielder expects Blackburn to try to frustrate them.
“They’re not going to let us come to their place and play the nice football that we play,” he said. “They’ll try and disrupt us and frustrate us like all of the other teams have.
“I think it will be a good game and if we play like we have been doing in the last couple of games, I am pretty sure we will get the three points.
“Any team that we come up against really won’t want us to win and it’s not just Blackburn, it’s every team. We’re at the top of the league, so when we come to them it’s going to be their biggest game of the season.”
Leeds secured the three points when the sides met at Elland Road in November, with Patrick Bamford and Jack Harrison netting in a dominant 2-1 victory.
Blackburn have won just one of the last seven meetings in all competitions, though that was a 2-1 win of their own in the last Ewood Park clash in 2018.