AFTER the delight, the dejection. Such is the up and down life of a Leeds United fan right now.
Just 80 hours on from an uplifting victory over Middlesbrough, a crushing sense of reality returned to Elland Road last night as Brighton & Hove Albion claimed not only their first points of the new season but also their first goals.
Joao Teixeira and Kazenga Lua-Lua got the all-important strikes that capped an impressive display by the Seagulls.
However, the boos that rang out at both half-time and full-time told their own story about how poorly the home side performed on a night when United were out-classed in every department.
Leeds’s set-up was all wrong, four midfielders of similar ability and style strung out in a line so rigid during a one-sided first half that they did a passable impression of the statuesque figures on a table football game rod.
Brighton, in contrast, fizzed about the field with an energy and enterprise that shamed their hosts. The upshot was United chasing shadows for long periods as the fleet-footed visitors passed the ball through and round those in white shirts with an ease that, especially in the first half, was embarrassing.
Leeds did improve in the second half, but, even then, Dave Hockaday’s side managed to fashion only one real chance of note and that was spurned, on 69 minutes, by Michael Tonge.
It was a bad miss, though perhaps one that saw justice done as even a point for the Yorkshire club would have been something of a travesty considering how Brighton dominated for long spells.
The tone was set in the opening exchanges, with Brighton’s play being as bright as their day-glo orange away shirts and Leeds having little answer to the visitors’ probing.
United’s response was to resort to some industrial-strength challenges, which were clearly designed to knock Albion out of their stride.
All the hosts managed, however, was to incur the wrath of referee James Adcock as, first, Rodolph Austin and then Stephen Warnock found their way into the official’s notebook inside the opening five minutes.
The second of those yellow cards proved the most costly, Warnock’s intent on flattening Craig Mackail-Smith on halfway meaning that, as Adcock waved play on, Brighton were able to exploit the space where the United left-back should have been.
A sliderule pass from Bruno Salter did the trick by releasing Joao Teixeira down the Leeds left, allowing the midfielder sufficient time and space to pick his spot past Marco Silvestri.
After that, Brighton continued to play the neater football with the excellent Kemy Agustien dictating play as United chased shadows.
The only consolation for Leeds at the break was that a tendency to over elaborate on the part of the visitors meant they fashioned just one other chance of note when Inigo Calderon headed over from a wonderful cross from Adam Chicksen.
In contrast to the pacey vistors, United laboured in possession and were deservedly jeered from the field at half-time.
Changes were clearly needed and Hockaday’s response was to send on Nicky Ajose for the ineffective Matt Smith.
Without the 6ft 6ins striker to aim at, United stopped firing aimless balls forward and started to pass to feet.
This, together with some incisive running off the ball down the right by Sam Byram, meant they posed much more of a threat after the interval.
A barn-storming run from Austin caused sufficient panic in the Brighton ranks that the
Jamaican was hacked to the ground just three or four yards outside the penalty area.
Tonge stepped up to take the resulting free-kick, but could only fire into the wall. It was disappointing but, at least, an indication that Albion were no longer going to have things all their own way.
An incisive passing move down the Leeds right flank then ended with Sam Byram squaring to Tonge who, despite being unmarked and just eight yards out, could only slice his shot wide.
With that went any chance of United rescuing even a point as, just a couple of minutes after Rohan Ince had struck the outside of a post, Brighton doubled their advantage when Lua-Lua fired a free-kick under a defensive wall which chose that exact moment to jump in the air.
An entirely fitting way to end a night when any hopes of the weekend win over Middlesbrough kick-starting the season at Elland Road were shattered in comprehensive fashion.
Leeds United: Silvestri; Byram, Pearce, Cooper, Warnock; Austin, Bianchi, Tonge, Murphy (Cook 80); Smith (Ajose 46), Sharp (Poleon 80). Unused substitutes: S Taylor, Bellusci, Wootton, Norris.
Brighton & Hove Albion: Stockdale; Calderon, Greer, Dunk, Chicksen; Holla (Ince 74), Forster-Caskey, Bruno; Agustien (LuaLua 59), Teixeira (Hughes 89), Mackail-Smith. Unused substitutes: Ankergren, Toko, McCourt, O’Grady.
Referee: J Adcock (Nottinghamshire).