Leeds made it three GUINNESS PREMIERSHIP wins from three to move off the bottom of the table with a narrow victory over faltering Saracens.
The visitors, who were top of the table at New Year but have now lost five of their last six league games, let a 9-3 half-time lead slip on a bright but chilly afternoon at Headingley
Neil Back’s side, meanwhile, will have renewed belief they can survive in their first season back in the top flight.
Although they lost reliable goal-kicker Ceiron Thomas midway through the first half, his replacement – 19-year-old Joe Ford – kicked enough of the chances that came his was to make sure of the triumph.
Leeds wing Lee Blackett helped too by crossing on the hour for the game’s only try on a virtually grassless but dry surface.
Leeds had made one change as Scott Barrow, who like flanker Hendre Fourie this week signed a two-year contract extension, returned at inside centre after missing last Sunday’s win over London Wasps with a calf strain.
Saracens made six alterations to side that lost at home to Bath last weekend. Rodd Penney’s inclusion on the wing was the only change to the backline while up front prop Matias Aguero returned alongside Schalk Brits at hooker. Tom Ryder came in at lock while Jacques Burger and Justin Melck were named in the back row.
Sarries enjoyed the early pressure and went ahead when Leeds were caught offside in front of their posts. Derick Hougaard kicked an easy penalty and doubled the lead soon after with a drop-goal that crept over from left of the posts 30 yards out.
Leeds countered through scrum-half Scott Mathie, but the visitors attacked again, thanks to full-back Alex Goode’s break in midfield.
Hougaard, however, missed a chance to extend the lead when he sent a penalty wide and Thomas was then withdrawn after a nasty clash with Kameli Ratuvou in the build up.
Leeds had a chance to strike back when wing Henry Fa’afili found a gap in Saracens’ defence, but Ford struck the near upright with a penalty from wide on the left. Ford again erred soon after with a more central penalty chance.
Saracens pressed again before the break and Hougaard made it 9-0 with a drop-goal from a near identical position to his first. But Ford made it third time lucky with penalty from right in front on the stroke of half-time.
The hosts began the second period with zeal and Ford reduced the deficit to three points with a straightforward penalty.
However, Hougaard soon re-established a six-point lead with a penalty from a similar position.
Ford spurned a more difficult kick from 40 yards out on the right, but made amends from slightly closer on that line just after.
Leeds then enjoyed their best period of pressure and were rewarded when Blackett went over from close range. Ford converted from the left.
Both hookers, Andy Titterrell and Brits, were sin-binned after 66 minutes for fighting before Ford and Hougaard were wide of the mark from penalties.
Leeds resisted further Saracens pressure and Ford added a crucial drop-goal in the dying minutes to take his side seven clear.