Chelsea do not lose often on their travels, but when they do fall it is with a bang. Having crashed 5-1 to Liverpool on their only other away defeat, their title pretensions were rudely exposed at Elland Road yesterday.
They arrived with fifth place in their sights and left fortunate to have conceded only two goals. Instead of marvelling at the skills of Gianfranco Zola and Franck Leboeuf, the more prosaic talents of Brian Deane and Paul Beesley were dominant. It is hard to remember when Leeds last played so well.
A tetchy match of seven bookings that was reminiscent of their meetings in the 1970s was won and lost in the first 10 minutes. Deane put the home side ahead and Ian Rush got the second, his first goal since moving to Elland Road from Liverpool last summer. And yes, Leeds have never lost a match in which he has scored.
"Our tactics were spot on," George Graham, the Leeds manager, said. "We knew they would want to slow the game down and it was our duty to impose the pace of our game on them. We denied them time and space to show their ability."
Graham's teams have a reputation for miserliness second to none, but it was a surprise to read his programme note in which he espoused games "that are full of excitement, hopefully with goals and certainly lots of goalmouth incidents". He would not have been disappointed by his team's opening fusillade.
After seven minutes, Beesley arched a ball down the left that ought to have pushed Deane too wide to be of any real threat. The Chelsea goalkeeper, Frode Grodas, came for the ball, however, and when he was second to it, Deane had an empty net to aim at, albeit from a narrow angle.
Two minutes later it was 2-0. Gary Kelly crossed from the right and Dan Petrescu was sufficiently hampered by Lee Sharpe's challenge as the ball ricocheted to Rush eight yards out. For Liverpool he would have had the ball bulging in the net in a flash, but after 15 goalless matches for Leeds, you never know. And it was with huge relief he scooped the ball in.
Chelsea had little option but to take risks, although rather than them stretching Leeds, their defence was given a fearful mauling by Deane in particular. He won virtually every ball in the air and his ungainly runs spread panic. After 19 minutes, the 6ft 3in striker was halted only by Grodas's dive at his feet, and four minutes later the scenario was repeated.
Ruud Gullit, the Chelsea player-manager, tried to stem the flow by introducing himself and Eddie Newton at half-time, but within 35 seconds of the re- start Deane headed just over. And after 49 minutes only Grodas's agility allowed him to claw the ball from under his bar after Rush had tried a delicate chip from the edge of the area.
Indeed, Chelsea had to wait until the final 20 minutes before they could assume any authority. Steve Clarke should have had a penalty when he was brought down by Carlton Palmer, and Frank Sinclair headed against the bar from Zola's corner.
When the goal did not come, tempers began to fray and tackles flew and it was a wonder that there was only one serious injury, a four-inch gash on Mark Hughes' ankle that required six stitches.
Given Deane's impact on the match, it was not a surprise that he perpetrated the foul that floored the Chelsea striker, and he had the final word in a more legitimate way in the closing minutes, hitting a shot from 20 yards against the bar.
Leeds United (3-5-2): Martyn; Palmer, Wetherall, Beesley; Kelly, Ford, Radebe, Bowyer, Sharpe; Rush, Deane. Substitutes not used: Wallace, Harte, Yeboah, Jackson, Beeney (gk).
Chelsea (3-5-2): Grodas; Duberry, Leboeuf, Clarke; Petrescu, Zola, Di Matteo (Gullit, h-t), Wise (Newton, h-t), Minto; Hughes (Sinclair, 75), Vialli. Substitutes not used: Burley, Colgan (gk).
Referee: S Dunn (Bristol).
Bookings: Leeds: Kelly, Deane, Ford, Beesley; Chelsea: Leboeuf, Hughes, Gullit.
Man of the match: Deane. Attendance: 32,671.Reuse content