Leeds offered confident indication here that if Sheffield United continue to stumble in the Championship's promotion race it is they, rather than Palace, who are well enough equipped to gain an automatic lift into the Premiership.
Jobi McAnuff's spectacularly struck goal deep into added time could not disguise Palace's inadequacies against a Leeds who were almost military in their efficiency and control, with the added touch of steel which comes in handy in this division.
As Palace manager Iain Dowie conceded, "They were better than us in key areas, and if you are second in both boxes you lose games." He promised, of course, that his men will continue to battle hard to get back to the league they slipped out of last May but they will need to perform better than this when so sternly challenged by well-drilled opponents.
Leeds' total commitment made an obvious comparison to Palace's approach, typified when Fitz Hall carelessly lost possession as early as the fifth minute and was relieved to see Gabor Kiraly tip over Jonathan Douglas's attempt. From the corner the Hungarian keeper unfurled his international class, plunging to his left to block Sean Gregan's forceful header on the line.
With Andy Johnson's forays being snuffed out, Palace struggled to drum up any sort of threat, McAnuff's diving - and off-target - header an exception, and they did well to hold out at the other end for as long as half an hour before being punished. The excellent Liam Miller sent Rob Hulse to the byline and it was ominous for Palace that two Leeds men were awaiting his low cross. Even so it needed a slight deflection off the luckless Hall before Robbie Blake, on his 30th birthday, bundled in his 11th score of the season.
This goal persuaded Leeds to add a few pirouettes and flicks to their repertoire, perhaps just to show that this club, after so many down years, is very much on the way back. There could have been a second for them just before half-time as Kiraly let Blake's long ball from the left pass over his head, not realising Eddie Lewis was behind him, but the American was also taken by surprise at the unexpected offer and miscued his header.
The miss was not costly, as only seven second half minutes had passed before Leeds scored again. Miller went barreling down the right and his cross to the near post was turned into the roof of KIraly's net by Hulse. Dowie sent on Aki Riihilahti and Mikele Leigertwood, whose instant volley from 25 yards almost caught Neil Sullivan by surprise.
If this was the signal for all-out attack by Palace it was also the time for Leeds to show what manager Kevin Blackwell praised as his players' "creativity, work rate and bravery when we needed it." Shaun Derry, once told by Dowie he was not part of his plans at Palace, must have enjoyed heading one effort off the Leeds line, but when McAnuff's strike did come, it came too late to make any difference.Reuse content