After five successive league defeats, Middlesbrough quite possibly saved their season by securing a first Championship win of 2013. It came thanks to a headed second-half goal from Curtis Main, a young striker who arrived on a free transfer from Darlington.
Unfortunately for Main he was sent off for collecting two very swift yellow cards but by then his side's promotion challenge had been put firmly back on track.
A reverse which rarely looked likely during the first half leaves Leeds mired in mid-table but Neil Warnock's team were sufficiently spiky to have given scouts from Manchester City, their fifth-round FA Cup opponents at the Etihad Stadium on Sunday, cause for concern.
"Unless I actually run on the pitch and start putting the chances in I don't know what we're going to do," said Warnock whose side missed several inviting opportunities and who was jeered by some Leeds fans. "It's very disappointing but we've got the makings of a very good team. I don't think the play-offs have gone for us but we've got to start winning games."
Tony Mowbray was considerably happier. "It's been a while," said a manager whose second-half replacement of Josh McEachran with Ishmael Miller proved inspired. "You have to compete against Leeds to beat them and we did. We matched their physical application."
Leeds were five places and five points beneath sixth-placed Boro at kick-off but it was Warnock's team who began more convincingly. While David Norris spurned two splendid chances Boro were prevented from settling into any sort of slick passing groove. When Jason Steele slipped over and Ross McCormack shaped to shoot, the visitors looked set to take the lead but Jonathan Woodgate – a former Leeds centre-half – came to Boro's rescue, clearing off the line impressively.
At this stage, with Leeds merely seeming to lack a bit of flair, it was easy to understand why Warnock claims his side would be strong promotion contenders if he had been able to keep Robert Snodgrass rather than sell the winger to Norwich last summer.
Invention is something Boro do possess and, sure enough, McEachran's imaginative pass to the on-rushing Faris Haroun had the previously underemployed Paddy Kenny dashing off his line to smother the danger as half-time approached.
Although Lee Peltier and his co-defenders continued to provide an obdurate barrier Boro perked up in the second half. Rhys Williams began dominating central midfield, Grant Leadbitter unleashed some accurate long passes and Woodgate began moving the ball out of defence with wonderful assurance.
Not so long ago few would have believed that Boro and Leeds, let alone Woodgate would have been playing in front of a crowd which barely scraped above the 18,000 mark. Sadly, these days those Champions League nights at Elland Road seem almost as much a distant mirage as Boro's run to the Uefa Cup final under Steve McClaren.
Today's uncomfortable realities were rudely highlighted when Woodgate, perhaps forgetting himself, sprinted a full 40 yards upfield before suddenly looking absolutely exhausted. Very shortly afterwards the clearly shattered, hobbling defender was withdrawn.
"I don't know if it's a calf or a hamstring but it's a frustration," Mowbray said. "With a fully fit Woodgate who knows where we'd be; he's a level beyond us, he's always in the right place at the right time."
By then McEachran, too, had tired but Miller proved an excellent replacement. Pacey and powerful, the Middlesbrough striker's enthusiasm for accelerating at the defence fazed Peltier and friends. One surge from Miller resulted in a cross from the left that was met by Main, who rose above all-comers and planted a header beyond Kenny.
Within minutes though the scorer was shown two yellow cards for kicking the ball away and handball. "It was poor man-management from the referee," said Mowbray, who was happier to reflect on the goal. "Ishmael tends to play in short bursts," he said. "But thankfully he managed one good short burst and Curtis stretched every sinew to get that header."