Cardiff City 2 Leeds United 1: Chopra ensures Leeds succumb to deserved loss

ALMOST nine years to the day since suffering FA Cup humiliation in Cardiff, a loss that preceded a truly spectacular fall from grace, Leeds United are still waiting to exorcise their demons in the Welsh capital.

Last night, the Yorkshire club were beaten for the second time this season by Dave Jones's men as goals from Craig Bellamy and Michael Chopra ensured the Bluebirds moved into the automatic promotion places.

United, who slip to fifth, had looked on course to rescue what, on the balance of chances created, would have been a fortuitous point after Robert Snodgrass had found the net with one of his trademark spectacular strikes.

But, instead, Chopra netted his second goal of the season against Leeds to ensure Cardiff claimed a league double over their bitter

rivals from England.

The 80th-minute winner also meant what has been a miserable recent record for Leeds in Cardiff continued, their fortunes in the Valleys being perhaps best summed up by the now infamous FA Cup tie between the two sides on January 6, 2002.

Back then, United had arrived in the principality sitting proudly on top of the Premier League and with manager David O'Leary proclaiming that his side would start and end their Cup journey in Cardiff.

He got his wish, though not the hoped for trip to the Millennium Stadium as the Fourth Division Bluebirds pulled off an almighty upset with a stunning 2-1 win.

Andy D'Urso was the only survivor from that third-round tie, the Essex official having an eventful afternoon in the bear-pit that was Ninian Park as he was felled by a missile thrown from the crowd and then later sent off Alan Smith.

Last night could not compare to that notorious meeting but D'Urso still had a busy 90 minutes trying to keep a lid on simmering tension.

Much of this centred, unsurprisingly, around Bellamy, who had to be told to calm down several times after becoming embroiled in rows with Paul Connolly and Snodgrass.

Once concentrating on his football, however, the Welsh international was the outstanding performer of a first half that the hosts dominated.

That Leeds had only been one goal behind at the break was more by accident than any great design on the part of the Yorkshire side.

The control exerted by Cardiff was such that but for Kasper Schmeichel the game could have been over by the interval.

As it was, the hosts managed to find the net just once when a quick corner by Chopra on 11 minutes saw the ball worked to Bellamy.

The on-loan Manchester City striker then exchanged passes with Peter Whittingham before drilling a low shot under Schmeichel.

There was little the Danish goalkeeper could have done, having been left badly exposed by United's slow reaction to the corner.

Eight minutes later, however, it was a different story as

Schmeichel kept Cardiff out twice in quick succession.

First, he got down smartly to turn a low shot from Chris Burke round a post after Andy Keogh had worked the ball to his team-mate on the right.

Then, from the resulting corner, Schmeichel managed to beat away a wickedly dipping shot from Bellamy.

United had another let-off a minute later when Lee Naylor blazed over after being found by Keogh unmarked just six yards from goal.

An indication of Cardiff's dominance in the first half was that they forced nine corners inside the opening 25 minutes.

Leeds, in contrast, had to wait until shortly before the break to force their first corner, though it did at least bring a rare chance as Billy Paynter flicked the ball just over the crossbar after being picked out by Snodgrass.

Otherwise, though, Simon Grayson's side offered little in the way of attacking menace during the one-sided first half and it was no surprise when changes were made early in the second half.

Lloyd Sam and Sanchez Watt were brought off the bench to replace the ineffective Ross McCormack, making his first return to Cardiff since joining Leeds in the summer, and Newcastle United target Max Gradel.

The pair made an instant impact as Watt played Sam through only for the former Charlton wideman to see his shot beaten away by Tom Heaton.

Snodgrass was the first to react and, after steadying himself on the edge of the penalty area, the Scot curled an exquisite shot into the corner of the net.

It looked like rescuing an unlikely point for Leeds until Chopra latched on to a long ball forward to beat Schmeichel and maintain the recent hoodoo for Leeds in South Wales that began with the humbling FA Cup defeat of nine years ago tomorrow.

Cardiff City: Heaton; McNaughton, Hudson, Quinn (Blake 75), Naylor; Burke (McPhail 79), Whittingham, Olofinjana, Bellamy; Chopra, Keogh. Unused substitutes: Santiago, Rae, Koumas, Matthews, Meades.

Leeds United: Schmeichel; Connolly, O'Brien, Collins, Parker; Howson, Johnson; Snodgrass, McCormack (Watt 57), Gradel (Sam 57, Becchio 64); Paynter. Unused substitutes: Higgs, Bruce, Faye, Hughes.

Referee: A D'Urso (Essex).