Newcastle and Leeds started the day top of the table and under the table respectively. At least, according to public perception. But such were the passionate performance of both teams and the individual panache on display here that, at least for 90 minutes, all debate concerning street assaults and drunken rampaging was silenced. In brief, the vision, passing and splendid goalscoring, though not the defending, was a welcome antidote to the poison that has afflicted football all week.
As for the bête noire himself, Lee Bowyer – the man whose behaviour 22 months ago and his response to it in the last week have provoked a national debate on the lifestyle of the professional footballer – returned looking not the least bit chastened. Instead, he was the ferret in pursuit of the ball and the hare when presented with it, most notably when scoring Leeds' second goal, as he quickly confirmed that recent experiences had done nothing to impair his footballing talent.
Bowyer returned to the side after paying his four-week club fine, and having recovered from his handcuff – sorry, hamstring – problem, which had cost him nine matches. The referee, Jeff Winter, who had dismissed him at Arsenal earlier this season, curiously made the point of shaking hands with him before the kick-off. That was unpredictable. Otherwise, the reaction to the Leeds midfielder was entirely what one might have anticipated – choruses of "You're supposed to be in jail" from the Newcastle contingent; cries of adoration from the home supporters.
"I thought Lee did very well," said his manager, David O'Leary. "He tired in the last 15 minutes, but the goal he scored was a typical Lee Bowyer effort."
Yet what can you say about Bowyer's team? As they had done on Wednesday night, when allowing Everton almost to recover from being 3-0 down, O'Leary's men teased and then ultimately disappointed their fans mercilessly. They were 3-1 ahead and easing to victory. But Newcastle were unimpressed. They fought back tenaciously to equalise, and then in the final minute Nolberto Solano struck a fine winner to ensure that Bobby Robson's team reclaimed the leadership. Not thatRobson is making predictions quite yet. "The message to all my players is, 'Keep your trap shut, keep your feet on the ground, beaver away and let's see what happens'."
He added: "It's been a sensational week, nine points from three games, and each game we've been behind. There is a good work ethic from the players, good motivation and personal ambition to do well."
Kieron Dyer, who played his first full game since returning from a serious injury, was as determined as Bowyer to enforce his claim to a place in Sven Goran Eriksson's next England squad. His first-half performance, in which he contributed to Newcastle's goal, will have done that purpose no harm.
He made a major contribution to the opening goal, fashioned by England old and new and finished by Welsh wizardry. Alan Shearer instigated the move with an astute pass to Dyer down the right, and his low cross was precisely placed for Bellamy to convert the chance with aplomb.
Newcastle's celebrations were overdone, though. While they were still mentally completing them, Mark Viduka despatched a through-ball which invited that man Bowyer to race clear. He duly brought the crowd at the Elland Road end to its feet by pushing the ball through the goalkeeper Shay Given's legs.
Just before the interval, Viduka, who had already been spoken to by Mr Winter for a blow in the face of Nikos Dabizas which broke the Newcastle man's nose – a challenge presumably adjudged to be careless rather than reckless – felled the same player with a high tackle which made contact with his knee. This time he was cautioned as Dabizas was removed on a stretcher, clearly in some pain.
Harry Kewell departed with a sore back and was replaced by Eirik Bakke early in the second half, but it did nothing to destroy Leeds' rhythm. Seth Johnson laid the ball off to Viduka who had his back to goal. With a majestic turn, to which his marker, Andy O'Brien, had no answer, the striker curved the ball around Given. Robson later contended that the striker should not have been on the field had Mr Winter reacted more appropriately to Viduka's assault on Dabizas.
"He should have been dismissed," said the Newcastle manager, who reported that the Greek had a large swelling around his knee. "It was two violent offences and all he got was one yellow card." O'Leary disagreed. "I can't believe Bobby. He's right out of order," said the Leeds manager. "Mark Viduka is a footballing centre-forward. I don't think he meant what happened."
All arguments were to prove irrelevant even though, minutes later, the visitors were again undone. A Bowyer mis-kick fell to Ian Harte and, from outside the area, the full-back struck the ball past Given with exemplary power and accuracy. But was that game over? Far from it.
It was the industrious Dyer who cut in and drove fiercely across goal. Martyn could only palm the ball away, and Robbie Elliott headed home his first goal of the season. Then, as they had on Tuesday night at Highbury, Newcastle again benefited from a doubtful penalty decision when Bakke was adjudged to have handled. The contact looked ball-to-hand and unintentional, but Mr Winter was unmoved. Shearer was as clinical as ever when he drove home the spot-kick.
In the closing minutes the substitute Sylvain Distin and Bellamy both came close, and it was the latter who, in the final minute, slipped the ball through for Solano to out- pace Harte before placing the ball wide of Martyn.
The championship still looks a long way off. But you fancy there's a new glint in one venerable manager's eye.
Leeds United 3 Newcastle United 4
Bowyer 38, Viduka 50, Harte 56; Bellamy 38, Elliott 59, Shearer pen 71, Solano 90
Half-time: 1-1 Attendance: 40,287