TOWN might be disappointed at the loss of a string of Saturday afternoon games from their Coca-Cola League I fixture schedule.

But there can be no complaints about the Carling Cup draw.

The first-round trip to old rivals Leeds is, quite simply, a cracker.

The Elland Road club might be lacking the big names who featured in their run to the Champions League semi-finals just three years ago.

But the situation Leeds now find themselves in is intriguing, as is the forthcoming Carling contest.

To steal a quote from Shakespeare, it's a classic case of ambition o'erleaping itself, and now Leeds have to pick up the pieces having painfully discovered the high price of unfettered dreams of European glory.

Relegation is no respecter of reputations and painful as it is, Leeds' ambition now has to be strictly small-time if they are to recover and recapture top-flight status.

The last time Leeds were relegated from the top flight, in 1982, it took them eight years to clamber back and, like it or not, they will have to swallow a lot of pride and learn harsh lessons from others.

If they are prepared to do that, relegation could be a blessing in disguise, a chance to reassess, regroup and recover.

Any reluctance on their part to accept the punishment and learn lessons could see them go the same way as Sheffield Wednesday, who are recovering at leisure in the new League I from the rigours of Premiership relegation with the millstone of a heavy wage bill.

When Leeds last went down, with a team including Town old boy Trevor Cherry, the fall was not so great.

Before freedom of contract, sky-high wage bills and multi-million pound television deals, relegation was not the crippling financial blow it is now and clubs were able to keep the players they needed to reclaim the higher ground.

But Leeds simply could not sustain their Premiership wage bill in the Football League, leading to the departure of top names like Alan Smith, Paul Robinson, James Milner, Dominic Matteo and Mark Viduka, whose transfer to Middlesbrough was completed yesterday.

Big clubs have recovered from the shock of relegation in the past.

Manchester United were arguably the biggest to have dropped out of the top flight back in 1974.

Relegation acted as a fillip, allowing them to shed the dead wood and whirl back into the top flight with an exciting team that included the Greenhoffs, Gordon Hill, Steve Coppell and Stuart Pearson.

Arguably, they have not looked back since.

Newly-installed Leeds boss Kevin Blackwell, the ex-Town goalkeeper and coach, will hope the players he has brought in can dovetail with the promising juniors coming through the ranks to get the club back on an even keel and lead a return to the days when Manchester United, not Town, provided the biggest derby contest on the Leeds calendar.


1990: May, win promotion back to top flight after eight-year absence.

1992: May, crowned League champions. Nov, allow Eric Cantona to join Man Utd.

1995: Sign Swedish striker Thomas Brolin for club-record £4.5m. He flops.

1996: April, lose 3-0 to Aston Villa in the Coca-Cola (now Carling) Cup final at Wembley. Sept, Wilkinson sacked, George Graham appointed.

1998: Graham quits and assistant David O'Leary steps up.

2000: Jan, players Lee Bowyer and Jonathan Woodgate arrested and charged with attack on an Asian student. The unsavoury episode hangs over the club for 22 months after the first trial is abandoned because of a prejudicial story in a national newspaper. April, joy at reaching UEFA Cup semi-finals turns to distress when two fans are murdered in Turkey before game against Galatasaray. May, finish third in Premiership to seal Champions League berth the following season.

2001: April, reach semi-finals of Champions League, losing to Valencia, then miss out on lucrative berth the following season by one place (they finished fourth). Nov, an intense period of incoming transfer activity, including capture of Rio Ferdinand from West Ham, culminates in the £11m signing of Liverpool striker Robbie Fowler,

2002: June, another failure to make the Champions League costs O'Leary his job. Terry Venables comes in. July, Ferdinand's sale to Manchester United for £30m is the first of a string of high-profile departures.

2003: March, Leeds sack Venables and bring in Peter Reid. It takes two late wins to stave off relegation. April, Peter Ridsdale, who sanctioned the big-spend policy, severs ties with club. Professor John McKenzie takes over. Leeds are now in crisis, with spiralling debts. July, Harry Kewell joins Liverpool for £5m. Oct, record club losses of £49.5m announced. Nov, Reid is sacked, Eddie Gray made caretaker boss. Dec, Prof McKenzie leaves club.

2004: March, a locally-based consortium, led by Gerald Krasner, completes a £30m takeover. May, Leeds are relegated, Gray departs, Kevin Blackwell takes over.