Bowyer's cool side-footed shot cancelled out Kevin Phillips' first-half penalty, but it was Sunderland's inability to contain his incisive runs without bringing him down which turned a game the Yorkshiremen dominated decisively in their favour.
Sunderland played the second half with only 10 men after Alex Rae was dismissed for bringing down Bowyer twice in three minutes, a decision which so angered the Sunderland manager, Peter Reid, that he had to be ushered back to his seat by the fourth official.
In truth, Sunderland were lucky to be ahead at that point, their goal on 37 minutes the culmination of their first cohesive attack. Nicky Summerbee clipped a perfect pass over Lucas Radebe into Phillips' path. The Leeds captain tapped his ankle and Phillips got up to blast the resulting penalty into the top left-hand corner for his third goal - and second penalty - of the season.
Rae was the third Sunderland player booked for fouling Bowyer and his dismissal also removed any hope that their tactic of massing behind the ball and hoping to pass their way out of trouble could succeed. Bowyer had already skimmed the bar with a volley when Thomas Sorensen blocked Darren Huckerby's drive and Bowyer guided the rebound into the net after 52 minutes.
As Leeds pressed forward, Thomas Helmer, making his debut after his free transfer from Bayern Munich, narrowly avoided turning the ball into his own net before David Batty induced panic with a lob into the heart of the Sunderland defence.
Ian Harte, who had already had one goal disallowed, saw his shot scrambled away but Danny Mills poked the ball back to trickle over the line. It was Mills' first goal for Leeds and, given the untidy manner of its execution, nobody was surprised to hear it.
The Leeds manager David O'Leary started the game with his two new strikers, Huckerby and Michael Bridges, the latter having recovered from a knee injury in time to face his old club. Paul Butler quickly renewed acquaintance with Bridges with a two-footed tackle, earning him a booking after only six seconds, which will take some beating as the fastest of the season.
Huckerby wasted three excellent chances, but it was Bridges who was substituted by the home-grown striker Alan Smith. He also had a goal disallowed, and Harry Kewell condemned Leeds to a nervous last few minutes when he drove a penalty, awarded when the substitute Darren Holloway brought down Smith, straight at Sorensen.
O'Leary said afterwards: "We dominated and missed a few chances but we kept our heads."
Reid's verdict was: "We were always on the back foot after the sending- off, but I am delighted with the way we played."Reuse content