AN ENCOURAGING away performance earned Leeds United a deserved point at Bolton Wanderers - in a tale of two penalties at the Macron Stadium.
Rudy Austin fired Leeds ahead after just three minutes after ex-Whites keeper Andy Lonergan was penalised for bringing down Sam Byram, but that strike was cancelled out early in the second half when Eidur Gudjohnsen confidently fired home from 12 yards after Luke Murphy was penalised for a challenge on Darren Pratley.
Given the fact that Bolton had been running hot at home and were unbeaten in seven matches, with six wins accrued, it represented a very good point for United, who remain two places above the Championship relegation zone.
There was plenty to talk about ahead of the kick off, given an extremely bold selection call from Neil Redfearn, who handed Steve Morison his first start since the 3-1 loss at Cardiff City on November 1 and just his third in the Championship this season.
Top-scorer Mirco Antenucci reverted to the bench, with there being no place in the squad at all for Adryan or Souleymane Doukara.
Casper Sloth and Luke Murphy also kept their places in the side, with Alex Mowatt named on the bench, with Lewis Cook, Sam Byram and Giuseppe Bellusci returning to the starting line-up.
Bolton started with veteran pairing Eidur Gudjohnsen and Emile Heskey, with the latter celebrating his 37th birthday tomorrow.
With just three minutes on the clock, the Whites were handed the perfect start with Andy Woolmer showing no hesistation in pointing to the spot after Sam Byram went down in the box after Andy Lonergan came out of goal and challenged him following Cook’s defence-splitting pass.
Bolton’s protests were ignored, with the contact looking neglible, but Austin ignored the commotion to send Lonergan the wrong way with an emphatically-taken penalty for just his second goal of the campaign.
It was a spot of karma for Byram after he was aghast at conceding a late penalty just up the road at Blackburn in November.
It represented a massive shot in the arm for Leeds, who stuck with the 4-2-3-1 formation, with Cook in an advanced central role behind Morison, with Byram and Sloth on the flanks.
On ten minutes, United went mightly close to a second when Bolton switched off in central defence and allowed Morison a free header in front of goal with his effort brillantly turned away by Morison.
With Bolton without a home defeat since October 4, the odds were on the hosts getting their act together after a testing opening and so it proved.
Not before Liam Trotter was cautioned for a late challenge on Charlie Taylor, his second poor tackle of the afternoon, which could have represented a second yellow card with a less lenient referee.
Taylor then had to be alert to make a saving clearance after clever play from Gudjohnsen released Liam Trotter and from the resulting corner, Matt Mills headed wide when well placed.
Bolton, with six wins in their previous seven home matches and no losses, maintained the pressure with good covering from Geatano Berardi denying Heskey a run at goal after a slick pass from Josh Vela.
Bolton were then handed a free-kick in a dangerous position after a clumsy challenge from -Austin on Darren Pratley, with the away supporters heaving a sigh of relief when Gudjohnsen’s well-taken free-kick whistled just past the near post, with Marco Silvestri rooted to the spot.
At the other end, a splendid pass from Cook teed up Murphy, whose volley was blocked by Dorian Devite before switched back to the other end amid an atrocious storm which beset the Macron Stadium.
It almost conjured a leveller with Silvestri blocking an effort from Mills close to the line following a corner with Pratley’s follow-up blocked as Leeds survived a genuine scare.
A last-ditch challenge from Mills then saved the day with Morison waiting to strike in front of goal after a decent counter-attack before the half ended with Bolton having another good free-kick chance after Bellusci - involved in a brief flashpoint with Morison moments earlier - fouled Heskey, but fortunately Neil Danns’ effort was blocked.
After such a good start to the opening period, Leeds were afforded the opposite in the second half as Woolmer again pointing to the spot, with the hosts the recipients this time.
Feeney’s cross found Pratley, who was just about to unleash a shot with Leeds unhinged, before he tumbled over following a desperate stretching challenge from Murphy.
Gudjohnsen, despite a short run-up, was coolness personified as he fired the ball high past Silvestri to level the scores.
It was a worrying development given the way Leeds had previously surrendered strong positions on the road, but thankfully it was not the precursor to a power surge from the hosts.
The next chance fell to the visitors three minutes before the hour mark, with Byram dispossessing Tim Ream before squaring the ball to Murphy, who dragged a low shot narrowly wide when well placed in front of the 3,918 visiting contingent, again providing top-class support.
Play started to fragment and become more scrappy with Bolton making their first change midway through the half when David Wheater replaced Dervite.
A counter attack saw Sloth fire over after a dangerous cross from Berardi, having a decent afternoon before a key block from Liam Cooper denied a certain goal for Gudjohnsen, who unleashed a fierce volley following Ream’s pass.
The game was on somewhat of a knife edge, with the next development seeing Silvestri, not exactly convincingly, turn away a cross-shot from sub Craig Davies, thrown on to boost Bolton’s attacking punch.
Heading into the final ten minutes, it was anyone’s game with Leeds producing their best moment of the half and going close to a second five minutes from time.
Super play by Cook found Byram, who twisted and turned neatly before firing in a goalbound shot which was saved at his near post by Lonergan.
Bolton Wanderers: Lonergan, Mills, Ream, Dervite (Wheater 67), Vela, Feeney, Trotter (C Davies 73), Danns, Pratley, Gudjohnsen (Walker 90), Heskey. Substitutes not used: Bogdan, Moxey, Spearing.
Leeds United: Silvestri, Berardi, Bellusci, Cooper, C Taylor, Byram, Austin, Murphy, Cook, Sloth (Mowatt 85), Morison. Substitutes not used: S Taylor, Pearce, Bianchi, Montenegro, Antenucci, Sharp.