The capture of Robbie Fowler was to be the only triumph Leeds enjoyed last night, and their departure from the Worthington Cup exposed a lack of imagination in attack that the boy from Toxteth might fill. Instead, it fell to Eidur Gudjohnsen to show Elland Road how a ball should be put into a net with an aplomb Fowler would have applauded had he not chosen to return to Merseyside rather than judge his new club from the stands.
The irony was not lost on David O'Leary; later today the Leeds manager expects to formally announce Fowler's signing, which will take his spending in the past year to some £50m. Yet, with Harry Kewell and Mark Viduka not recovered from Australia's trek to Uruguay and the Bowyer-Woodgate court case reaching its conclusion, he was unable to fill his bench.
By the end of a night in which Leeds' limitations without the width of Kewell and Bowyer were fully exposed, he had lost Stephen McPhail, Dominic Matteo and Eirik Bakke to injuries and was employing Michael Duberry as a very makeshift centre-forward against his former club.
As O'Leary had already used his substitutes when McPhail was carried off, Leeds finished a miserable evening a man short. Chelsea, who badly needed this victory to keep open one route to Europe, nevertheless lost their captain, Graeme Le Saux, to concussion after a clash with Alan Smith. The first meeting of these sides in a domestic cup competition since the notoriously vicious 1970 FA final thus lived up to its billing, although much of the game was full of the weary tetchiness of an old married couple rather than outright venom.
Until Gudjohnsen intervened for the first of his two goals in the 59th minute, there was precious little venom in front of goal from either side. A first half which in terms of creative football was a wasteland seemed to be designed to show Elland Road how badly Fowler was needed.
Leeds' greatest threat stemmed from Ian Harte's free-kicks, although Carlo Cudicini needed to save only one; turning a curling shot past the post four minutes after the interval. Had Jeff Winter awarded a penalty for William Gallas's trip on Robbie Keane, Leeds might have secured an advantage their play scarcely deserved.
Le Saux, whose ugly two-footed challenge on Danny Mills here last month was still fresh in Yorkshire minds, was at the centre of most of Chelsea's forward play, spinning past Bakke and David Batty, finding Gudjohnsen on the right and then scooping the return ball high into the stands. This seemed to sum up the opening 45 minutes.
Fittingly, it was Le Saux who provided the vital cross which Frank Lampard nodded down. Gudjohnsen reacted fractionally more quickly than Rio Ferdinand, striking it on the half-volley past Nigel Martyn. Since, moments earlier, the Icelander had struck the outside of the post, Leeds had been warned.
With the home side running out of time and players, Chelsea secured their passage into the quarter-finals as, after Ferdinand slipped painfully on the edge of their own area, Lampard broke away, feeding Mario Melchiot, whose pass was driven home by Gudjohnsen.
In the context of the season, O'Leary admitted that an early exit from the Worthington Cup may be no bad thing. The priority is a return to the Champions' League which last season generated £25m to help fund the Fowler transfer, but the 1968 League Cup was the first trophy Don Revie's great team lifted and it is time some kind of silverware was brought back to the Broad Acres.
Leeds United (4-4-2): Martyn; Mills, Ferdinand, Matteo (Duberry, 60), Harte; Bakke (McPhail, 62), Batty, Dacourt, Wilcox (Kelly, 77); Keane, Smith. Substitute not used: Robinson (gk).
Chelsea (4-4-2): Cudicini; Melchiot, Gallas, Terry, Babayaro; Jokanovic, Dalla Bona, Lampard, Le Saux (Zenden, 86); Gudjohnsen (Zola, 88), Hasselbaink (Forssell, 90). Substitutes not used: Stanic, De Goey (gk).
Referee: J Winter (Stockton).Reuse content