FOR Leeds United fans, a dislike of Chelsea is something that is for life and not just Christmas.
As a result, any defeat – never mind one by such a comprehensive margin – against a club who have been considered the enemy at Elland Road for the best part of 50 years can be hard to stomach.
However, despite United last night seeing their dreams of a first appearance in a domestic Cup semi-final since 1996 dashed by the Blues, the overriding feeling among the home fans in a sell-out 33,860 crowd at the final whistle was of pride rather than dejection.
That much was apparent by the tremendous ovation afforded Neil Warnock’s side, who had earlier given the reigning European champions a huge scare by taking a first-half lead through Luciano Becchio.
Parity was restored 60 seconds after the restart courtesy of Juan Mata and once level the European champions ruthlessly ripped United apart to claim their largest ever win at Elland Road.
Branislav Ivanovic, Victor Moses, Eden Hazard and Fernando Torres were the goalscorers who helped underline Chelsea’s superiority as they swept away any notion that jet-lag may be a problem following their 6,000-mile return journey from the World Club Cup in Japan earlier in the week.
That, though, seemed to matter little to the locals as they sang ‘we’re Leeds and we’re proud of it’ as their team left the field.
It was an understandable reaction, not least because United had given everything in their quest to try and join neighbours Bradford City in the last four of the Capital One Cup.
No challenge had been shirked and no quarter given. Instead, Chelsea, whose current squad cost in excess of £200m to put together, were simply too good for the Championship outfit. And considering the Londoners lifted the Champions League just seven months ago there is no disgrace in that.
It had been clear from the opening stages that absence had not made these two famous old rivals any fonder of each other as the eight-and-a-half years since their last meeting melted away amid a flurry of robust tackles and fiery exchanges.
Frank Lampard was the first to go in the book for a scything 15th-minute challenge into the back of El-Hadji Diouf but, in truth, Andre Marriner could have brandished a yellow card at any one of half a dozen players.
Turning the game into a physical battle clearly suited Leeds, whose most expensive signing, captain Lee Peltier, cost a mere £49.2m less than Chelsea’s Torres did when joining from Liverpool.
That said, though, there was nothing remotely inferior about the goal that put the Championship side ahead on 37 minutes.
Michael Tonge started the move with a sweeping ball to the left flank for Jerome Thomas. With most of the visitors caught upfield following the breakdown of their own attack, the West Brom loanee knew speed was of the essence as he looked up to curl an inviting cross for Becchio to finish coolly past Petr Cech.
The move was one of stunning simplicity and made all the more satisfying for the home fans by it coming just as Chelsea were starting to find their own attacking rhythm.
Jamie Ashdown had twice kept the Blues out, Moses left frustrated on both occasions as the United goalkeeper got down low to beat away his goalbound efforts.
Jason Pearce also had to show tremendous bravery to put his head in the way of a ferociously hit Mata shot and divert the ball behind for a corner.
Becchio’s 15th goal of the season then gave Leeds vital breathing space, but they still needed Ashdown to produce a save of the highest order to deny Lampard, whose dipping free-kick from 35 yards had dipped viciously after flying over the defensive wall.
As Warnock’s side left the field at the interval to a rapturous reception, the hope among the home fans was that their team could keep it tight from the restart to pile the pressure on Chelsea.
Instead, the Blues took just a minute to draw level when Moses found Mata, who drilled a left-foot shot that Ashdown made a hash of trying to keep out.
Considering the excellent saves he had pulled off in not only the first half but United’s previous four Capital One Cup ties, it was an uncharacteristic mistake.
Ashdown, however, didn’t dwell on it and instead produced two fine stops before the hour mark had been reached to deny Torres and Lampard.
He couldn’t, though, do anything about a 64th-minute header from Ivanovic that crept in at the near post.
Two minutes later, the tie was effectively over thanks to a thunderous shot from Moses that again gave Ashdown no chance.
Leeds refused to accept defeat and forced a series of corners but it was Chelsea who were destined to finish the night on top with two quick-fire goals.
First, Hazard latched on to a sublime through ball from David Luiz before finishing from 15 yards.
Then, with the home defence again caught out of position, Torres tapped in to ensure Chelsea maintained their impressive record of never having lost in 12 Cup ties against Leeds.
Leeds United: Ashdown; Byram, Lees, Pearce, Peltier; Green, Brown (Norris 72), Tonge, Thomas (White 68); Becchio, Diouf (McCormack 73). Unused substitutes: Kenny, Varney, Gray, Somma.
Chelsea: Cech; Azpilicueta, Luiz, Ivanovic, Bertrand (Cole 74); Lampard, Oscar; Moses, Mata (Ferreira 85), Marin (Hazard 60); Torres. Unused substitutes: Turnbull, Piazon, Saville, Ake.
Referee: A Marriner (West Midlands).
No Christmas gift: Page 20.