Cardiff City v Leeds United: Weary Whites brushed aside

The assumption made by Leeds United's camp was that their visit to Cardiff could not possibly be worse than Cardiff City's visit to Leeds.

The scoreline last night left a more flattering impression but much of their performance did not.

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United's manager, Simon Grayson, maintained that revenge for the club's heaviest defeat of the season in October was less of an incentive than the thought of what a victory in Wales would do to the Championship table, but his players were capable of neither.

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The defeat which so nearly befell the club at the hands of Middlesbrough on New Year's Day came instead at Cardiff City Stadium, a first loss in 13 games.

From the first kick of the ball, the crowd in Cardiff could see it

coming. Michael Chopra's late goal eventually settled a one-sided fixture that his club could have won at a canter.

Passages of Cardiff's football were as overwhelming as the performance which yielded a 4-0 victory at Elland Road two months earlier, and only their finishing drew a less impressive comparison.

Reports of the weakening of a team who recorded one victory in seven games before yesterday were badly over-exaggerated.

Leeds threatened to pinch a point through a piece of magic from Robert Snodgrass, who produced a picture-book reply to Craig Bellamy's opening goal with 59 minutes played, but Chopra stepped in to win the game 10 minutes from time.

The final whistle signalled the end of United's unbeaten sequence, ruined by the last side to beat them, and marked a jaded conclusion to their post-Christmas schedule.

Tired legs were apparent in Saturday's scrambled draw with Middlesbrough, and Leeds struggled to make a game of their appearance in Wales until Snodgrass altered the balance of the contest.

The opportunity to climb to second place in the Championship went begging nonetheless, taken instead by Cardiff.

Grayson was devoid of great consolation at full-time, and the prospect of an FA Cup tie at Arsenal is more daunting than it was 24 hours ago.

The chance to draw breath is unreasonably short before a lunchtime kick-off in London on Saturday.

Last night's game was United's fourth since Christmas Day and Grayson saw the need for two changes to his team, one at either end of the field.

Ben Parker made his first appearance for eight months, relieving Andrew Hughes on the left side of defence after the 32-year-old's trying afternoon against Middlesbrough.

Billy Paynter's inclusion was a means of resting Luciano Becchio and revisiting a striker who made his full debut for Leeds a week earlier.

Becchio's knack of guarding the ball and teasing Leeds out of their own half was sorely missed.

As significant as United's line-up was Cardiff's, confirming the absence of England international Jay Bothroyd.

His goals were pivotal in Leeds' heavy defeat in October but the striker was a victim of heel and hamstring injuries last night, unavailable for the fifth game running.

Nevertheless, a side containing Craig Bellamy, Andy Keogh and Michael Chopra made Bothroyd's omission a surmountable problem.

A brief study of Parker's injury-riddled past would have highlighted an area of frailty in Grayson's line-up, particularly on a wet and heavy pitch that soaked up two blizzards before kick-off.

Far from troubling Parker alone, Cardiff put Grayson's entire defence under strain and split them apart with 10 minutes played.

A corner from Chopra to Bellamy found Leeds short of bodies on the left wing and a clever exchange of passes with Peter Whittingham played the Welsh striker into the six-yard box. Bellamy momentarily threatened to lose his balance but steadied himself before rolling the ball under Kasper Schmeichel.

It was the first chance of note but not the first time that United had been penned back towards their own area. Schmeichel palmed a Bellamy corner off his goalline in the fourth minute, and Robert Snodgrass' sliced shot across Cardiff's goal was a brief glimmer of promise before Bellamy demonstrated his well-identified skill.

His finish did not seem likely to be City's last. United's centre-backs came under pressure again when former United player Keogh collected Kevin McNaughton's aimless clearance, and Keogh's strike deflected into the path of Burke who drew an urgent save from Schmeichel.

Bellamy did likewise from the edge of the box, forcing Leeds' goalkeeper to redirect the ball with his elbows, and Lee Naylor thrashed the ball over the crossbar from the position where his captain had scored. Grayson did not relish the sight of his players hanging on with only 20 minutes played.

The corner won by Keogh in the 23rd minute was Cardiff's eighth, an indictment of United's attempts to feel their way into the match.

It yielded a volley from Whittingham that Schmeichel stood up to, keeping his side within a goal of City for the second time.

By then, the extent of Cardiff's dominance was as severe as periods of their appearance at Elland Road and Bellamy's energy on the left wing kept Grayson's players looking over their shoulders.

Paynter wallowed in isolation, in front of a keeper in Tom Heaton who was not asked to make a save before Leeds finally made him twitch in the 39th minute.

Paynter met a near-post corner from Snodgrass with a flicked header which sailed over of the bar at speed.

As the first half wound down, Snodgrass and Paul Connolly were in constant, bitter argument with Bellamy, his niggling tendencies as strong as ever.

The interval offered Leeds some respite, temporary though it appeared to be. Mark Hudson failed to beat Schmeichel when he got a foot to Bellamy's cross six minutes into the second half and it was no surprise to see Grayson turn to his bench before the hour had passed. Out of nowhere, an equaliser materialised.

One of his substitutes, Lloyd Sam, should have scored with his first touch of the ball when Cardiff's defence found themselves outnumbered and unable to defend a pass from Sanchez Watt.

Heaton repelled his effort brilliantly with his legs but, as disarray consumed City, Snodgrass curled a fabulous finish into the net with the help of a post. The stadium's silence told its own story and despite the loss of winger Sam to an injury within minutes of his entrance, the direction of the wind seemed to have changed irrevocably.

But Chopra's close-range conversion placed the honour in the hands of a club who showed highlights before kick-off of October's win at Elland Road and their infamous FA Cup tie against Leeds nine years ago.

Another exhibit for their collection.

Cardiff City: Heaton, McNaughton, Hudson, Quinn (Blake 75), Naylor, Burke (McPhail 79), Whittingham, Olofinjana, Bellamy, Keogh, Chopra. Subs (not used): Santiago, Rae, Koumas, Matthews, Meades.

Leeds United: Schmeichel, Connolly, O'Brien, Collins, Parker,

Snodgrass, Howson, Johnson, Gradel (Sam 57 (Becchio 64)), McCormack (Watt 57), Paynter. Subs (not used): Higgs, Faye, Bruce, Hughes.

Referee: A D'Urso (Essex)

Attendance: 25,010

Paul Heckingbottom.

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