There is life in the old Premiership yet, and in Leeds United, who moved off the bottom of it for the first time in five weeks with a performance as spirited as their previous one at Charlton, and against superior opposition. If there was less opportunity to attack, even on the counter, and defence was occasionally more desperate, that only added to the merit of their work.
Chelsea remain top of the pile, thanks to Leicester's late goal against Arsenal, whose young winger Jermaine Pennant, on extended loan at Elland Road, had done his best for the Highbury cause by scoring an outstanding individual goal in the 19th minute. For a while it looked as if that might be enough to turn the table upside down, but the London side, trailing at half-time for the first time this season, threw on an extra attacker and belatedly achieved some penetration. Damien Duff equalised and by the end the home side were hanging on, but deserved to do so successfully.
For once, both managers agreed on the justice of the outcome, even from their opposing perspectives. "When you look at the quality of Chelsea, I was happy with a point," said Leeds' temporary manager, Eddie Gray. "I knew they would make chances but we made it difficult for them. We've still got players capable of scoring, so if everybody works hard not to concede, we should start picking up some points."
Chelsea's manager, Claudio Ranieri, was as gracious as ever despite what must be considered the loss of two points, his mood brightened by Arsenal's lapse: "We enjoy it after the game when we are top of the table, but it's not important now. Sir Alex Ferguson is right when he says it is important to be top at the end." The other satisfaction lay in knowing that a typical substitution - Hernan Crespo for Joe Cole at the interval - had the desired effect.
Leeds have a more settled look now that Gray has decided to ditch the loanee foreigners brought in by Peter Reid and trust native grit. Having been handsomely rewarded with victory at The Valley seven days earlier, he stuck to the same formation. Once again Alan Smith sat deep in midfield, leaving Mark Viduka to perform the role of work-horse in attack, which required the two young and gifted wide players, Pennant and James Milner, to support him whenever possible. Two early crosses on the run by Pennant offered encouragement while illustrating the problem - not enough white shirts in the penalty area to take advantage. So the third time, the Arsenal man decided to do it all himself, to dramatic effect. Dispossessing Claude Makelele after Smith won a forceful header against Cole, he swept into the area, eluding John Terry and William Gallas before giving Carlo Cudicini the rare experience of retrieving the ball from his net. It was the first such occasion for either the goalkeeper or his team in eight matches.
Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink was back in the Chelsea side but had little chance to prove against his former club that he should be starting every game. A tame jab straight at Paul Robinson proved, remarkably, to be the visitors' only attempt on target before the break. Indeed, a second spectacular strike might have followed at the other end. In the 39th minute, Viduka turned on to a right-wing throw-in, leaving Terry and Gallas in his wake to set up Stephen McPhail for a shot that only just cleared the angle of bar and post.
To enliven the home crowd further, there was a whiff of the 1970s about some of the tackling, from the moment Gary Kelly took a hack at Cole in the first minute. McPhail, beginning a senior game for the first time in exactly a year, followed up with a high double-footed lunge at Makelele that brought no card from the referee, but Mike Dean soon made good that omission by noting the names of Smith, Lucas Radebe and Dominic Matteo.
Hasselbaink must have been concerned to see Crespo warming up from the moment the half-time whistle sounded, but it was Cole, ineffective on the left of the midfield diamond, who made way. That meant another change of formation, with Adrian Mutu out wider on the left, Duff switching across to the right and Frank Lampard having to work harder than ever in the middle.
The pressure grew and seven minutes into the half there was a triple escape for Leeds. Robinson could only parry Mutu's shot; Crespo, odds-on to tuck away the rebound, allowed Radebe to block, and Duff was thwarted by Matteo. All of which perfectly illustrated Leeds' doughty defending and teamwork. Gray decided that they needed fresh legs nevertheless, sending on Seth Johnson and Didier Domi for Milner and McPhail with a good 25 minutes to play.
Ten men still gathered behind the ball as soon as Chelsea won it, but even 10 were not enough to prevent an equaliser in the 68th minute. Mutu was twice involved, feeding Hassselbaink, then having his shot well parried from the resulting cross before Duff followed up, this time allowing no heroics on the goal-line.
Viduka's weak header from a corner was the only chance at either end in a less eventful last period, during which the home supporters would happily have settled for a final whistle at any time. In more reflective mood, they might justifiably ask why - for all the players who have been sold - a squad of such ability should be anywhere near the wrong end of the table.
Leeds United 1 Chelsea 1
Pennant 19; Duff 68
Half-time: 1-0 Attendance: 36,305Reuse content