A PRICELESS two-goal blast in the space of six second-half minutes from Luke Varney cast aside Leeds United’s relegation demons in a dramatic Yorkshire derby at Elland Road.
Varney - who spent two loan spells at Hillsborough earlier in his career - cancelled out Jermaine Johnson’s 27th-minute opener with a bullet header three minutes after the hour mark, with referee Neil Swarbrick awarding a goal after the effort smashed off the underside of the bar and bounced over the line - before another well-placed header settled the contest on 69 minutes.
The result means that Wednesday, who went into the game as the form side of the division and were seeking victory to rubber-stamp their safety, still have work to do to stave off the drop as they succumbed to just their second away league defeat since the start of December.
In truth, they could few complaints after paying the price for a subdued second-half, with several changes from new Whites manager Brian McDermott paying off impressively.
The introduction of El-Hadji Diouf at the interval for David Norris proved a masterstroke, as was McDermott’s decision to switch Varney to centre forward after replacing the ineffectual Steve Morison with Aidan White on the hour mark.
The first-half proved a muted affair with an early chance fluffed by Morison, who cashed in on Lewis Buxton’s failure to clear a free-kick from skipper-for-the-day Stephen Warnock with the former Milwall man miscuing when well placed, with his meek effort blocked by Chris Kirkland.
Aside from that and a few long-range efforts, United brought little to the table before the break, with Wednesday forging the lead after seizing on some dithering home defending three minutes before the half-hour mark.
Kirkland’s punt forward was headed on by Jeremy Helan, when no home player challenged, with Jermaine Johnson latching onto it in an instant, stealing a march on Warnock before lifting the ball expertly over Paddy Kenny.
At the other end, Ross McCormack’s free-kick was cleared close to the goaline by Miguel Llera before Leroy Lita went close at the other end.
The half ended with Llera testing the reactions of Kenny with a free-kick as the visitors sought to double their tally.
On the restart, no doubt cajoled by some words from McDermott, United looked a totally different and transformed side.
Four minutes into the second period, Morison spurned a great chance to level after being profiting from Anthony Gardner’s error, but he criminally delayed too long in front of goal, with Reda Johnson making a saving tackle.
Soon after, the hosts went close again, with Gardner this time saving the day after making vital clearance after Varney latched onto the rebound after Kirkland expertly parried a goalbound shot from McCormack.
Leeds continued to press and they got their just desserts with a leveller on 63 minutes.
McCormack’s cross was met with a firm header from Varney, whose effort bounced off the bar, but over the line with Kirkland helpless.
United went for the jugular with Varney plundering his sixth goal of the season with just over twenty minutes to go after another impressive assist from McCormack.
The Scot’s cross was headed in clinically by the former Portsmouth frontman - to the ectascy of most of the 23,936 crowd.
After a limp half hour, the Owls gradually stirred into life and laid siege for a spell ten minutes before the end, which almost yielded a leveller following a frenetic mini-spell of action.
First, a brilliant swivelled volley from sub Steve Howard after good work by fellow sub Chris Maguire hit the post before Reda Johnson went desperately close to a scrambled equaliser as the visitors laid siege.
Despite a tense denouement, it proved United’s day as they ended a four-match losing streak with a welcome victory.
Leeds United: Kenny; Byram, Pearce, Warnock, Drury; Green, Norris, Austin, Varney; McCormack, Morison. Substitutes: Ashdown, White, Tonge, Diouf, Poleon, Somma, Hall.
Sheffield Wednesday: Kirkland; Buxton, Llera, Gardner, R Johnson, Holden, Coke, Prutton, Helan; J Johnson, Lita. Substitutes: Taylor, Maguire, Mattock, McCabe, Lee, Howard, Bywater.
Referee: N Swarbrick (Lancashire).