Substitute Jadon Sancho secured Manchester United a hard-fought 2-2 draw against Leeds to deny their managerless rivals a famous first league win at Old Trafford in 42 years.
he relegation-threatened Whites sacked Jesse Marsch on Monday and caretaker replacement Michael Skubala was on course to mastermind an unforgettable victory two days later.
Wilfried Gnonto fired the visitors ahead after 55 seconds and Raphael Varane turned into his own goal early in the second half as Leeds dreamt of a first league win at Old Trafford since February 1981.
But Erik ten Hag’s United are made of stern stuff and rallied impressively, with Marcus Rashford’s header followed by substitute Sancho’s first goal since September in a thrilling 2-2 draw.
Illan Meslier superbly stopped Varane scoring a winner at the end of a rip-roaring tussle that adds excitement ahead of Sunday’s return fixture at a bouncing Elland Road.
Leeds may have Marsch’s full-time successor in place for the sides’ second meeting in five days, with Rayo Vallecano’s Andoni Iraola and Feyenoord boss Arne Slot among the favourites.
Ten Hag had been unsure what to expect from the visitors in the wake of Marsch’s sacking and could not have foreseen them racing into the lead within a minute of kick-off.
Bruno Fernandes evaded Tyler Adams’ attention on the flank, but ran into a Pascal Struijk tackle that sent the ball flying forward to Gnonto.
The 19-year-old played a one-two with Patrick Bamford as he cut in from the left and sent a fizzing shot from the edge of the box that skipped into the bottom left-hand corner.
The West Yorkshire hordes erupted at a goal the VAR gave the green light following a check for offside against Bamford.
Leeds were forced into an early change as Crysencio Summerville replaced injured Luis Sinisterra, yet they continued to look dangerous and nearly added a second in the 11th minute.
A corner routine ended with a cross being flicked on to Struijk at the far post, where a combination of the defender’s poor connection and David De Gea’s quick reactions prevented a goal.
It was a let-off for the hosts, who belatedly settled and increased the pressure.
Full debutant Marcel Sabitzer had attempts either side of an effort by Alejandro Garnacho, who controlled Fernandes’ delicate cross and struck narrowly wide.
Leeds were forced into their second change midway through the opening period after Struijk took a fierce Rashford effort to the face.
United tried to capitalise on the visitors’ rejigged backline and should have scored in the 27th minute.
Fernandes put Garnacho behind and he prodded beyond Meslier, cut past sliding Luke Ayling only for Maximilian Wober to block his goalbound shot.
The one-way traffic continued as Varane nearly looped a hopeful header over Meslier, who positioned himself well to stop a brilliant Sabitzer curler with a similarly impressive save.
Leeds saw out that storm and returned for the second half in the same vein they began the first.
Naive Garnacho was dispossessed and Gnonto ended playing on to overlapping Summerville, whose cutback was turned into his own goal by Varane three minutes after the restart.
United were stuttering so Ten Hag made three alterations and moved Rashford centrally – decisions that quickly paid dividends.
Introduction Facundo Pellistri laid off for Diogo Dalot to cross in for Rashford to send a crashing header past Meslier in the 62nd minute.
Leeds quickly went close to restoring their two-goal cushion when freshly introduced Brenden Aaronson’s free-kick hit the foot of the post, but the hosts were getting joy at the other end.
Man United ramped up the pressure and it told in the 70th minute.
Having linked up well down the left, when Shaw’s cross was blocked Sancho was in the right place to take advantage and struck through a crowd past Meslier in front of the Stretford End.
It was not only a big moment on the night but in Sancho’s return to the fold after a recent period away.
Momentum was with those in red and Meslier had to be at his best to tip over a close-range Varane header as United pushed for a winner.
Fernandes had chances and Rashford could not get clear contact on a shot at the near post, with Fred denied by Leeds’ impressive goalkeeper in stoppage time.