A week earlier, Michael Bridges scored two minutes into stoppage time to end Southampton's rearguard action. This time it fell to Ian Harte, with a coolly taken penalty kick, to translate Leeds' dominance over Derby into three points. The stopwatch was showing nearly four minutes of time added on.
The lateness of the left back's goal, which followed an injudicious challenge by Hector Carbonari on the irrepressible Harry Kewell, again highlighted the resilience of a Leeds side in which nine players aged 22 or under featured at some stage during the afternoon.
David O'Leary's squad only arrived back in Yorkshire at 4am on Friday after something of a chasing from Spartak Moscow in Sofia the previous evening. Nevertheless, it was Leeds who dictated the pace of the match and while Derby accused Kewell of tumbling theatrically they could not have too many complaints about their seventh home defeat in nine matches.
Derby, who held the Yorkshire team to 0-0 at Elland Road on the season's opening day, remain in the bottom three after a fourth successive reverse. Their manager, Jim Smith, had set a modest target of five points from a gruelling sequence against Chelsea, Liverpool, Manchester United, Arsenal and Leeds. In the end they had to settle for three.
The arrival of Georgi Kinkladze, on loan from Ajax, and Craig Burley, for pounds 3m from Celtic, should help them to edge clear of the drop zone. However, neither looked match-fit, with the Georgian a portly shadow of the player who became a cult hero at Manchester City. He was substituted with a calf strain with 15 minutes remaining.
By then, Leeds were battling against fatigue. For more than an hour they had carried the game to Derby, who seemed content to defend deep and dig in for a point. All too often Michael Bridges and Darren Huckerby were forced to shoot from outside the 18-yard area. Huckerby spoiled more than one move by straying offside or failing to look up before playing the ball.
In the absence of David Batty, Eirik Bakke took the holding role in front of an under-worked back four. The Norwegian, whose father is due to become Wimbledon's chief executive today, gave an accomplished display. Alongside him, Stephen McPhail was a hive of industry until he suffered an ankle injury which could add to O'Leary's selection problems ahead of Thursday's return match against Spartak.
But it was Kewell, playing in gloves despite the relatively mild East Midlands weather, who presented the most persistent threat to Derby's contain-and-counter strategy. His twisting surges from deep positions repeatedly drew defenders to him, only for Leeds to fail to exploit the spaces he opened up.
In a 10-minute spell early in the second half the Australian looped a header on to the roof of the net and clipped the angle of post and bar. Kewell also set up a clear shooting chance for Huckerby. In keeping with the former Coventry striker's showing, he hesitated and the moment was lost.
Either side of that flurry, Derby twice broke out to frighten Leeds. Kinkladze, leaving Jonathon Woodgate on the seat of his pants as he swerved round him, hit his shot too close to Nigel Martyn's legs. A similar fate befell a header by Steve Elliott following a corner, Martyn tipping the ball over his crossbar.
As Leeds dug deep for a final push, Alan Smith claimed a goal when he stole the ball as Mart Poom prepared it in his six-yard box. The referee, Paul Alcock, ruled that the substitute had kicked the ball out of the Estonian's hands, although O'Leary later begged to differ after studying the video evidence.
Kewell refused to accept the stalemate and embarked on a last, desperate charge as the seconds ebbed away. Accelerating past Carbonari - but running out of space in which to cross or shoot - his trailing leg was caught by the Argentinian's outstretched foot. Harte drove the spot-kick past Poom and the Leeds followers behind the goal delirious with a delight tinged with disbelief.
Needless to say, the rival managers viewed the decisive incident differently. "He didn't touch him and the replay proves it," said Smith. "A definite penalty," argued O'Leary. "That's Harry Kewell in full cry. It's not our fault if the guy pulls him down with a rash challenge."
The Irishman was "delighted" with Leeds' approach after their arduous schedule of late, yet came over all coy when pressed about their championship prospects. Smith had no such qualms, describing them as "very realistic challengers", though he could not resist adding, "especially if they get refs like that every week. Mind you, it's not a bad time to score, with the last kick of the game."
Derby County (3-5-2): Poom; Laursen, Carbonari, Elliott; Delap, Burley, Kinkladze (Dorigo, 75), Powell (Prior, 64), Johnson; Sturridge, Burton (Christie, 80). Substitutes not used: Nimni, Hoult (gk).
Leeds United (4-4-2): Martyn; Kelly, Woodgate, Radebe, Harte; Bowyer, Bakke, McPhail (Jones, 83), Kewell; Bridges, Huckerby (Smith, 77). Substitutes not used: Jones, Mills, Duberry, Smith, Robinson (gk).
Referee: P Alcock (Halstead, Kent).
Booked: Derby: Johnson, Laursen, Prior. Leeds: Bakke, Kelly, Smith.
Man of the match: Kewell.
Attendance: 29,455.Reuse content