LEEDS UNITED secured their eighth win from their last 10 league games as former striker Jermaine Beckford saw red in a remarkable and breathless triumph at Preston North End.
After Kemar Roofe had headed the Whites into a 17th-minute lead, Hadi Sacko doubled the advantage with a clinical second just six minutes later.
Preston immediately hit back to reduce the deficit through Marnick Vermijl four minutes afterwards, but United restored their two-goal cushion within another four minutes when a low shot from Souleymane Doukara beat goalkeeper Chris Maxwell and trickled over the line.
There was then further drama after the break as Preston’s Beckford was shown a straight red card against his former side just three minutes after coming on for kicking out at Kyle Bartley in the 70th minute.
And fifth-placed Leeds put the gloss on a truly memorable away day when substitute Pablo Hernandez fired home United’s fourth with two minutes left.
Ironically, an epic contest passed without a single chance being created in the first 15 minutes.
But, two minutes later United took the lead after Preston conceded a free-kick on the right-hand touchline.
Stuart Dallas stepped up to deliver an inviting cross which was met by Pontus Jansson whose header looped over goalkeeper Maxwell and found Roofe, who had the easy task of nodding home into an empty net.
A stunned Preston looked to immediately rally and an effort from Callum Robinson had to be smartly dealt with by Rob Green.
But Sacko’s 23rd-minute effort doubled United’s lead as a superb through ball from Roofe found the winger, who produced a strong rising finish into the roof of the net.
For Leeds, Christmas had been extended by an extra day but Preston then hit back just three minutes later.
A cross into United’s penalty box was knocked down by Simon Makienok to Vermijl, who blasted the ball past a helpless Green from close range.
But, somewhat incredibly, Leeds then hit straight back just four minutes later.
This time it was Doukara getting on the act as the striker broke away down the left side and unleashed a low effort at Maxwell who allowed the ball to creep under him and trickle over the goalline.
There had barely been time to pause for breath and Preston threatened to bag the game’s fifth goal seven minutes before the break, but instead Daniel Johnson fired a wild effort over the bar.
A header from Makienok then trickled wide before Kalvin Phillips picked up the game’s first booking for a late challenge.
But Preston wasted the free kick as Vermijl sliced an effort wide.
It was Leeds who should have netted again in the second minute of first-half injury time when Liam Bridcutt stormed his way to the edge of the Preston box before feeding Roofe, who blazed over.
Preston came flying out of the traps after the break and Leeds survived claims for a North End penalty for handball.
Roofe then blocked a dangerous, low effort from Ben Pearson before Bartley became the second Leeds player to be booked for a sliding challenge.
Whites head coach Garry Monk brought on Hernandez for Sacko, but Preston continued to bombard the visitors’ goal and Green had to produce a brave save at the feet of Alan Browne before Robinson fired another effort just wide on the hour mark.
Preston’s Beckford entered the fray six minutes later as part of a double Lilywhites change, with the striker given a heroic welcome by the away end against his former side.
But, just three minutes after coming on, Beckford was sent off after colliding with Luke Ayling and then kicking out at Bartley with raised studs.
Preston’s task now looked hopeless, especially with Monk bringing on top scorer Chris Wood for Doukara with 15 minutes left, shortly after Roofe had blazed a powerful effort narrowly over the bar.
Leeds had been threatening to make it 4-1 and did so with two minutes left when Hernandez was afforded far too much space in the Preston box and allowed to slot home from close range.
Preston North End: Maxwell, Baptiste, Clarke (c), Huntington, Cunningham, Vermijl, Pearson, Browne, Johnson (Doyle 75), Robinson (Beckford 66). Makienok (Hugill 66). Unused substitutes: Lindegaard, Wright, Spurr, Pringle.
Leeds United: Green, Ayling, Bartley, Jansson, Berardi, Phillips, Bridcutt, Sacko (Hernandez 54), Roofe (Antonsson 80), Dallas, Doukara (Wood 75). Unused substitutes: Silvestri, Denton, Cooper, Vieira.
Referee: J Simpson.