Gordon Strachan and Gary McAllister, two of the driving forces behind Leeds' most recent championship success, gave George Graham a painful reminder that a team needs flair and determination as well as a tight defence.
Five matches without conceding a goal suggested that Graham's first law of football had been successfully implemented at Leeds, but Coventry - themselves much more solid at the back since Dion Dublin's effective conversion into a defender - were on a roll of their own.
This was Coventry's third successive victory, and the managerial new boy Strachan gave the old hand Graham a lesson into how to make a silk purse out of a sow's ear. Aided by a missed penalty by the Leeds full- back Gary Kelly, his side hung on doggedly with 10 men after another Leeds old boy, Noel Whelan, was sent off.
Yet it had all begun so brightly for Leeds. Dublin made a rare error when his clearance cannoned off Ian Rush into the path of Brian Deane, who struck an angled drive into the top left-hand corner after only nine minutes. Rush, Lee Bowyer and Carlton Palmer all wasted subsequent chances, but the lead looked comfortable enough. Then the glue in the Leeds defence came unstuck.
Darren Huckerby, Strachan's pounds 1m signing from Newcastle, provided the solvent. With his pace, bustle and mobility, he was already looking like Coventry's best player before he picked the ball up on the touchline and ran across the face of the box. All three Leeds defenders backed off, and he placed an angled drive low into the far corner of the net.
Then Dublin, who scored twice from set pieces against Leicester on Saturday, came forward for a John Salako corner and popped up between David Wetherall and Paul Beesley to give Coventry the lead. Two minutes later Palmer brought down Huckerby after first having given the ball away to him. McAllister knows all about scoring penalties on this ground.
It was the end of what Graham later described as "a crazy 10 minutes that swung the game. We committed suicide at the back with some bad individual mistakes."
But a red mist that descended on Coventry in the second half could have let them back in. Whelan, already booked for a tackle on Mark Jackson, was sent off for bringing Bowyer down from behind - something Richard Shaw also did to Deane a minute later to concede a penalty. But Kelly, who has only scored one professional goal, missed and - despite the arrival of Tony Yeboah - Leeds' life-line had gone.
Leeds United (3-5-2): Martyn; Palmer, Wetherall (Yeboah, 71), Beesley (Dorigo, h-t); Kelly, Jackson, Bowyer, Radebe, Halle; Deane, Rush. Substitutes not used: Harte, Ford, Beeney (gk).
Coventry City (3-5-2): Ogrizovic; Shaw, Daish, Dublin; Salako, Williams, Richardson, McAllister, Telfer; Whelan, Huckerby (Jess, 89). Substitutes not used: Burrows, Boland, Genaux, Finlan (gk).
Referee: M Bodenhan (East Looe, Cornwall).