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.
The relegation-threatened Whites sacked Jesse Marsch on Monday and caretaker replacement Michael Skubala was on course to score a memorable victory two days later.
Wilfried Gnonto put the visitors ahead after just 55 seconds and Raphael Varane scored his own goal early in the second half as Leeds dreamed of their first league win at Old Trafford since February 1981.
But Erik ten Hag’s United are solid material and staged an impressive rally, with a header from Marcus Rashford followed by substitute Sancho’s first goal since September in a thrilling 2-2 draw.
Illan Meslier superbly stopped Varane to score a winner at the end of a roaring battle that added to the excitement ahead of Sunday’s return leg on a bouncing Elland Road.
Leeds may have Marsch’s full-time successor ready for the second meeting in five days, with Rayo Vallecano’s Andoni Iraola and Feyenoord boss Arne Slot among the favourites.
Ten Hag did not know what to expect from the visitors after Marsch’s dismissal and could not have foreseen that they would take the lead within a minute after kick-off.
Bruno Fernandes evaded Tyler Adams’ attention on the flank, but encountered a tackle from Pascal Struijk that sent the ball flying to Gnonto.
The 19-year-old played a one-two with Patrick Bamford as he charged in from the left, firing a smashing shot from the edge of the box into the bottom left corner.
The West Yorkshire hurdles erupted on a goal that the VAR gave the green light after an offside check against Bamford.
Leeds were forced into an early substitution as Crysencio Summerville replaced the injured Luis Sinisterra, but they continued to look dangerous, almost adding a second in the 11th minute.
A corner routine ended with a cross to Struijk at the far post, where a combination of a poor connection from the defender and David De Gea’s quick reactions prevented a goal.
It was a letdown for the hosts, who settled late and turned up the pressure.
Full debutant Marcel Sabitzer had attempts on either side of a bet from Alejandro Garnacho, who checked Fernandes’ delicate cross and narrowly missed.
Leeds were forced into their second substitution halfway through the opening period after Struijk took a fierce try from Rashford in the face.
United tried to take advantage of the visitors’ shifted back line and should have scored in the 27th minute.
Fernandes put Garnacho behind him and he poked past Meslier, passed sliding past Luke Ayling, only for Maximilian Wober to block his goal shot.
The one-way traffic continued as Varane almost fired a hopeful header over Meslier, who positioned himself well to stop a brilliant Sabitzer curler with an equally impressive save.
Leeds saw that storm out and returned for the second half in the same vein as they started the first.
The naive Garnacho was dispossessed and Gnonto eventually played through to overlapping Summerville, whose cut was converted into his own goal three minutes after the restart by Varane.
United stuttered, so Ten Hag made three changes and moved Rashford to the center – decisions that quickly paid off.
Introduction Facundo Pellistri dropped for Diogo Dalot to cross in for Rashford who sent a smashing header past Meslier in the 62nd minute.
Leeds were soon close to recovering their two goals when Brenden Aaronson’s newly introduced free-kick hit the foot of the post, but the hosts got joy at the other end.
Man United put the pressure on and that became clear in the 70th minute.
Sancho was well connected on the left and when Shaw’s cross was blocked he was in the right place to take advantage and smashed through a crowd past Meslier for Stretford End.
It was not only an important moment on the evening, but also in Sancho’s return after a recent absence.
Momentum was with those in the red and Meslier had to be at his best to knock down a close range header from Varane as United went on the hunt for a winner.
Fernandes had chances and Rashford couldn’t get clear contact on a shot at the near post, with Fred being denied by the impressive Leeds goalkeeper in stoppage time.