Faced with the prospect of becoming the manager of the worst-ever Leeds United side, Kevin Blackwell received a late Christmas gift when his mix-and-match side earned three points from their Boxing Day bout with promotion-chasing Sunderland.
On a day when Sunderland fans held a traditional end-of-year minute's silence to mark the passing of past managers and players, including the legendary 1973 FA Cup-winning manager Bob Stokoe, Leeds exerted some kind of revenge for that Wembley defeat some 31 years ago.
This, however, is a vastly different Leeds to the side beaten by Stokoe's underdogs and Blackwell has a job on his hands restoring order to Elland Road after the club went into free-fall towards potential financial ruin. But Blackwell and his young team of fighters ensured they headed down the A1 with three points in the bag.
Sunderland, and their manager Mick McCarthy, have already come through dire times following the club's exit from the top-flight two years ago. They could have gone into the automatic promotion places with a win, but an impressive display from Leeds earned the Yorkshiremen the points.
"To come to this place and win is very encouraging," said Blackwell, who fielded seven players under the age of 20 in his 16 to face Sunderland. "We're going through a transformation and the squad is being tested to the limit. I'm very proud." The young winger Aaron Lennon delivered the first blow to Sunderland's hopes when he curled home a shot from 16 yards out in the 30th minute after David Healy had caused panic among the rearguard of the home side.
Three minutes before the break Sunderland were back on level terms. Dean Whitehead burst into the penalty area and was felled by the makeshift full-back Frazer Richardson. The midfielder Liam Lawrence stroked home the spot-kick.
The Sunderland forward Chris Brown missed two excellent chances eight minutes after the break when, after a neat turn 30 yards from goal, Neal Sullivan palmed his stinging shot wide before he headed the resulting Lawrence corner over.
Leeds punished the home side's failings in the 62nd minute when Brian Deane powered home a trademark header from an inch-perfect cross from Healy, just seconds after Sunderland thought they had averted the threat of a Matthew Spring run.
The home favourite Julio Arca struck the outside of the Leeds post and the substitute Stephen Elliott turned a shot into the arms of Sullivan before Julian Joachim landed the killer blow five minutes from time, finishing off a free-flowing Leeds move.
Danny Pugh went close in the final minutes for Leeds before Arca sparked a frantic injury-time spell when he curled home a free-kick in stoppage time. But Sunderland's chance to capitalise on defeats for Wigan and Ipswich was squandered.
"I'm disappointed with the goals we conceded," McCarthy said. "The league is concertina-ed up again and maybe it is a wake-up call for all of us."
Goals: Lennon (0-1); Lawrence (1-1); Deane (1-2); Joachim (1-3); Arca (2-3).
Sunderland (4-4-2) Myhre; Wright, Breen, Caldwell, McCartney; Lawrence (Stewart, 81), Whitehead, Robinson, Arca; Brown, Bridges (Elliott, 60). Substitutes not used: Alnwick (gk), Whitley, N Collins.
Leeds United (4-4-2) Sullivan; Kelly, Butler, Kilgallon, Richardson; Lennon (Joachim, 79), Spring, Wright, Pugh; Deane (Ricketts, 86), Healy (Woods, 90). Substitutes not used: Carson (gk), Carlisle.
Referee: R Beeby (Northamptonshire).
Booked: Leeds: Kelly, Butler.
Man of the match: Healy.
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