Three wins in a row for resurgent Sunderland, three consecutive home defeats without a goal for Leeds. The impression last night was of two of the Championship's biggest clubs going in a sharply differing directions, with the Wearsiders already resembling promotion candidates under Roy Keane's management and Leeds' slide into the bottom three doing nothing to enhance Kevin Blackwell's security of tenure.
In a victory even more emphatic than the score suggested, all the goals were of high quality and each came from a former Republic of Ireland team-mate of Keane's. Liam Miller, who Blackwell took to Leeds on loan from Manchester United last season, struck the first midway through the opening half; Graham Kavanagh bludgeoned the second moments before the interval; and Stephen Elliott fired a third immediately after it.
Long before the end, fans who began by vilifying Keane for his past misdemeanours at Elland Road, real and imagined, had turned on their own manager. Blackwell, who led Leeds to the play-off final in May, responded defiantly. "It's difficult to accept, but this isn't about my safety; it's about the club's survival," he said. "The squad is paper-thin and blighted by injuries. Until I get the likes of (Shaun) Derry and (Richard) Cresswell back, that makes it very difficult."
Blackwell added that Sunderland would now "take some stopping". The momentum Keane has generated is certainly striking, though he was quick to praise the players he inherited as well as his own clutch of deadline-day signings, one of whom, Kavanagh, was hugely influential in midfield.
"We've talked over the past few weeks about spirit and character," Keane said. "Tonight we showed we have talent as well."
Leeds' early brightness had already petered out before they fell behind after 28 minutes. A dazzling move began with Robbie Elliott at left-back and was carried on by Ross Wallace, who cut across the penalty area and then rolled the ball to the unmarked Miller whose low drive found the far corner.
Kavanagh, with his snarling demeanour and biting tackles, is as close as Sunderland come to a Keane clone. It took a full-length save by Warner to keep out his fierce drive late in the first half. The former Wigan player was not to be denied, however, and soon raced on to a deft pass by Miller before thrashing an early shot beyond Warner from 20 yards.
Blackwell's side was so bedraggled that it was no surprise to see Kevin Nicholls, who was originally expected to be sidelined by injury until November, appearing in the second half. The £700,000 recruit from Luton had hardly touched the ball before Sunderland scored again in the 48th minute. Ben Alnwick's long kick was headed on by Murphy to Stephen Elliott, the substitute angling a first-time volley past Warner.
Leeds' goal tally from four home fixtures remains a solitary penalty and Sunderland were able to absorbe what passed for pressure without Alnwick having to make a single save.
Leeds United (4-4-2): Warner; Kelly, Butler, Kilgallon, Crainey; Stone (Carole, 54), Westlake, Douglas, Lewis (Nicholls, h-t); Horsfield, Healy (Blake. 63). Substitutes not used: Gregan, Moore.
Sunderland (4-4-2): Alnwick; N Collins, Varga, Cunningham, R Elliott; L Miller, Whitehead (Lawrence, 80), Kavanagh, Wallace; Connolly (S Elliott, 43, Leadbitter, 60), Murphy. Substitutes not used: Ward (gk), D Collins.
Referee: A Marriner (West Midlands).Reuse content