A late winner from Jermaine Beckford curtailed Exeter City's party but despite losing their first game since their elevation to League One, Paul Tisdale, their manager, has been given hope that they can survive and even prosper at this level.
Consecutive promotions have taken the club to a form of promised land – League One – and Alex Russell's wonderful 73rd-minute free-kick had looked like being enough to earn a point as their marvellous story seemed destined for another chapter.
Beckford had given Leeds an early lead in a commanding display up front but Exeter, who played the last half-hour with 10 men after Barry Corr's dismissal for raising his arms, showed tremendous desire and backbone to equalise.
However, they could not quite hang on as Beckford nodded home an 88th-minute Jason Crowe cross to silence the visiting support in a result Leeds deserved on balance but perhaps not on sentiment.
"This gives me a really good starting point," Tisdale said. "We did ourselves proud at the first attempt at this division and I am pleased. They are gutted but deep down they know they put in a good performance today and we needed that. I'm so proud of them. It is not easy playing away and Leeds were well organised and had good strength. I imagine they will do very well."
The indicators of Beckford's potency were there from the start as he had a plethora of chances and he immediately made Paul Jones, the City keeper, earn his wages with a fine point-blank save eight yards out.
Beckford should have scored when Jones blocked his effort straight in front of goal but he soon atoned for his error after team-mate Ben Parker showed fine vision to put him through on goal. The striker did the rest brilliantly, eschewing the hit-and-hope approach in favour of dinking the ball over the on-rushing Jones.
Leeds dominated for large parts of the game but Exeter continued to run and probe the home side without looking truly threatening.
Their cause was not helped close to the hour when Corr was dismissed for appearing to try to hit Michael Doyle but as is often the case, the reduction to 10-men galvanised Exeter and Russell's consummate 25-yard curling free-kick surprised few people in the stands.
As the end neared, Leeds' attacking composure went out of the window as they desperately looked to find a winner. And just as Exeter appeared to be safe, Beckford rose highest to head Crowe's cross comfortably past Jones and ensure that Leeds did win.
Elland Road reverberated with relief more than excitement following the winner and that alone is something of a victory for the visitors, although it was nowhere near as valuable as the point they had let slip from their grasp.
Paul Grayson, the Leeds manager, said: "It is very important to start the season positively. The first game is about winning the match. Overall it was a half-decent performance but there is more to come from us."Reuse content