Date: Saturday, 15th May 2004.
Bridge, West London.
English Premier League.
1 Leeds United 0
Scorers: Chelsea: Gronkjaer.
Leeds United: Nil.
Chelsea: Cudicini; Melchiot,
Gallas, Terry (Huth),
(Nicholas), Johnson (Stanic); Cole, Gudjohnsen.
Unused Subs: Crespo, Ambrosio.
Leeds United: Carson; Richardson, Duberry,
Radebe, Harte; Milner,
Kelly, Matteo, Olembe (Barmby), Wilcox (Pennant); Smith. Unsused
Subs: McPhail, Kilgallon, Allaway.
Referee: Mr M. Dean (Heswall, Wirral).
Thank heavens for that. Leeds United's season had
finally come to a close at Chelsea on Saturday
15th May 2004. It was a campaign that had been littered with disappointments and
frustrations and the final whistle at Stamford Bridge was accompanied by a collective
sigh of relief. Both sets of players looked like they would rather have been
somewhere else, anywhere else, other than going through the motions on a lovely
sunny day in west London. The match itself had the feel of a
testimonial and, as the sun beat down on Stamford Bridge, one couldn't help but think what a
total and utter waste of time that Saturday afternoon was.
were already guaranteed second place and their stars clearly didn't want to
overdo it, while the Leeds side was a real mixed bag with returning players,
committed players, disaffected players and anyone else who fancied a game. It
was never going to be the ideal mix for an end of season classic and the 41,000
fans were treated to the sorry sight of two teams barely going through the
motions in a bid to kill one last match day before the holidays. To add to the
unhealthy cocktail, the season-long frustration of the Leeds fans finally boiled over and Alan
Smith and Nick Barmby were singled out by a minority.
Alan Smith's final appearance in a United shirt was
soured when he made a gesture to the fans after incessant taunts about a
potential summer move to Manchester United. The abuse proved too much for some
and two Leeds supporters even exchanged blows
over a difference of opinion surrounding the soon-to-depart marksman.
homegrown striker wasn't the only player to feel the force of the frustrated
fans and late substitute Nick Barmby was greeted by a
chorus of "You're not fit to wear the shirt", while others simply
told him to go forth and multiply. It was a long time since a Leeds player had
received such abuse and, given that Nick Barmby had
hardly played that term, through no fault of his own, he was an unfortunate, if
unsurprising, victim. But these frustrations were always going to come to a
head and they simply reached boiling point at a sweltering Stamford Bridge. While there were tears galore
after the home farewell against Charlton the previous week there was no such
emotion when the curtain finally came down on United's
majority of the players remained behind to show their appreciation, Scott
Carson and Michael Duberry hurled their kit into the
away section, but the same togetherness that had prevailed that term wasn't
there. Maybe that was down to the fact that Saturday was officially the end of
an era. Of United's starting eleven, at least four
would not appear in a Leeds
shirt again while a handful of others could have also found themselves heading
through the exit door in the ensuing few weeks. Add to that the uncertainty
surrounding the new manager, and continued takeover speculation, and it was one
disaffected club which waved goodbye to the Premiership at Chelsea.
It was at
times like that you would like to have clung on to optimism or hope but, at
that stage at least, there was little to latch on to as you looked to the
future. Without the appointment of a new manager and an injection of funds, it
was hard to see how Leeds
were facing anything other than a long, hard scrap in
the Coca-Cola first division. And when the fans chanted "We'll be
back", there were more than a few hearts ruling heads. For his part,
stand-in manager Kevin Blackwell attempted to take a few positives from the
game. He returned to the system favoured by Eddie
Gray in November and December and a packed midfield added protection to the
worst defence in the Premiership. Leeds got men behind the ball and, on the
occasions when Chelsea showed enough attacking nous
to get through, teenage goalkeeper Scott Carson proved he was one for the
future with a string of fine saves.
Carson had to be at his best to tip a deflected effort from Joe Cole over the
bar and he proved equal to another good effort from Eidur
Gudjohnsen. The Cumbrian
youngster was part of the next generation for Leeds United and he was joined by
Frazer Richardson in impressing at Chelsea. Richardson looked assured at right-back and
was neat and tidy throughout. From a creative point of view, United's problem was again in the middle of the park. James
Milner looked physically shattered on the right flank while Jason Wilcox, making
a welcome return on the left, was making his first start since the previous
August. His inclusion in the starting XI suggested that he might be offered a
new deal by the club despite being told he would be released when his contract
expired the following month. In the middle, Salomon Olembe
was handed his first start since 10th January and he showed all the signs of
ring-rustiness that go with such a long time on the sidelines. The departing
Alan Smith ploughed a lone furrow up front and without any real service his
final appearance in a Leeds
shirt would not live long in the memory. It was that sort of day.
Chelsea started like a house on fire and opened the
scoring after twenty minutes. Glen Johnson crossed from the right and a
horizontal Jesper Gronkjaer
stole in at the far post. That could have been the cue for an avalanche, but
while the home side laboured, Leeds closed ranks and were only
occasionally opened up by Joe Cole and midfield pal Frank Lampard.
United couldn't muster a single shot on target from open play but, amazingly,
they came within a whisker of snatching a point. Substitute Jermaine
Pennant, playing his final game before returning to Arsenal, rattled the
upright with a stinging free-kick that proved out of the reach of Carlo Cudicini. That was on seventy minutes, but afterwards the
game drifted towards an inevitable conclusion.
fans finally awoke from their slumbers long enough to hail their under pressure
manager Claudio Ranieri, while the travelling support remained defiant in the face of
adversity. The final whistle just couldn't come soon enough and within moments
of the Leeds players heading down the tunnel for
one last time the fans were scarpering out of the
ground and as far away from football as possible. For the time being at least,
it was all over.
Glen Johnson congratulates Jesper
Gudjohnsen takes on the United
Jermaine Pennant and Joe Cole in a tussle for the ball Kevin
Blackwell was in charge
Lucas Radebe leads
the inquest after the Chelsea goal, Dominic Matteo,
Michael Duberry and Ian Harte
Jason Wilcox takes on Glen Johnson
Frazer Richardson beats Claude Makelele
Nick Barmby out jumps
the giant Dominic
Matteo salutes the fans Alan Smith salutes the fans for the last
Jesper Gronkjaer score the only goal Alan Smith’s last game for United resulted
in abuse for him and Nick Barmby
Scott Carson made a string of fine saves Michael
Duberry threw his kit to the fans Frazer Richardson impressed
James Milner looked jaded Jermaine Pennant, playing in his final Jason
Wilcox had first game since August
after a hard season game, rattled a post
Salomon Olembe had
not played since January Eidur Gudjohnsen and Glen Johnson
were in the starting XI for Chelsea
Robert Huth and Alexis Nicolas came on as substitutes
Marco Ambrosio was
unused on the bench