LEEDS UNITED were knocked off the top of the Championship as captain Liam Cooper was sent off in a 3-1 loss at new leaders Cardiff City.
The Bluebirds took a 28th-minute lead after Mateusz Klich lost possession in a crucial area and the hosts worked the ball to Kenneth Zohore to slam home.
Junior Hoilett then doubled the Cardiff lead nine minutes later and United’s miserable night got even worse in first half stoppage time when Cooper was sent off for picking up a second yellow card.
Zohore then doubled his own tally just before the hour mark before a Leeds side who never gave up pulled back a consolation through Kemar Roofe in the 67th minute.
After Cardiff efforts from first Joe Bennett and then Sol Bamba were deflected over, Leeds became the masters of their own downfall in the 28th minute when Klich was robbed of possession in his own half on and Cardiff took full advantage by working the ball to Zohore who rifled past Felix Wiedwald from inside the box.
Cardiff immediately went in search of a second as Bennett saw a powerful effort blocked but Leeds then squandered a decent counter when Luke Ayling looked reluctant to shoot after being played in by Roofe. A brilliant pass by Stuart Dallas then found Gjanni Alioski who cut inside but fired well wide.
But Cardiff countered in the 37th minute and worked the ball to Hoilett who unleashed a 25-yard rocket that whistled into the far corner.
A strong late tackle by Cooper on Loic Damour then left referee Kevin Friend with a decision to make but Friend opted to produce a yellow and not a red.
Soon after, Zohore fired into the side netting when well placed and Cardiff’s Nathaniel Mendez-Laing then saw his low shot saved by Wiedwald.
But United’s half was to get even worse in first half stoppage time when Cooper dived in on Mendez-Laing on the left flank and knew straight away he was heading for an early bath.
Even then, things very nearly got worse when Sean Morrison only saw a potential third goal ruled out for offside from the resulting free-kick.
The contest already looked over though Leeds pressed on after the break and Cardiff ‘keeper Neil Etheridge produced a fine double save to deny first Gaetano Berardi and then Alioski before the custodian also kept out Roofe.
But Cardiff bagged their third goal just before the hour when ten-man United were sliced open as Hoilett and Morrison worked an opening for Zohore.
Leeds then pulled a goal back in the 67th minute when Ayling fed Roofe whose deflected shot beat Etheridge in off the post.
But Mendez-Laing sliced a good chance wide in the 82nd minute before Wiedwald saved from Damour as Cardiff pushed for a fourth en route to moving three points clear of now second-placed Leeds at the top.
Leeds United: Wiedwald, Ayling, Cooper, Jansson, Berardi, Klich (Vieira 67), Phillips, Alioski (Grot 61), Hernandez (Pennington 46), Dallas, Roofe. Subs not used: Lonergan, Sacko, Saiz, Lasogga.
Cardiff City: Etheridge, Peltier, Manga, Morrison, Bennett, Bamba (Halford 90), Damour, Bryson, Hoilett, Mendez-Laing (Feeney 86), Zohore (Ward 76). Subs not used: Murphy, Tomlin, Connolly, Bogle.
Referee: Kevin Friend.
Attendance: 27,160 (2,744 Leeds).