Date: Saturday, 15th May 2004.

Venue: Stamford Bridge, West London.

Competition: English Premier League.

Score: Chelsea 1 Leeds United 0

Scorers: Chelsea: Gronkjaer. Leeds United: Nil.

Attendance: 41,267.


Chelsea: Cudicini; Melchiot, Gallas, Terry (Huth), Bridge; Gronkjaer, Makelele, Lampard (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.

Chelsea 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.

The 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 Premiership tenure.

The 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.

Scott 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.

The home 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.


Match Action:



Glen Johnson congratulates Jesper Gronkjaer             Eidur Gudjohnsen takes on the United defence                          



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 look away    



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 time

Robert Huth





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



                      Mario Stanic, Robert Huth and Alexis Nicolas came on as substitutes


Marco Ambrosio was unused on the bench