Tom Cairney made Leeds rue the day they released him for being too small as the midfielder plotted their downfall with a star performance in the Rovers midfield.
Cairney joined Leeds’ academy aged seven and left nine years later, but now 22 he showed size does not matter with a masterful display in the middle of the park.
On loan with Rovers from Hull – who he joined straight after leaving Leeds – Cairney laid on first-half goals for Rhodes and Gestede before the home side woke up and pulled one back through Matt Smith.
That signalled the start of a chaotic period during which referee Anthony Taylor took centre stage with a number of contested decisions, while the bar was hit and other opportunities were squandered.
But in the end the away side left with the points, with the only downside after a first win at Leeds since Andy Cole was one of their scorers in 2003 is that Cairney is now heading back to Hull.
It took just 11 seconds for the first opportunity to arrive as Leeds captain Rodolph Austin’s 25-yard effort was deflected behind.
The home side could not build on that start, though, and after they allowed Grant Hanley a free header which he could not take advantage of, a dangerous experiment with the offside trap led to Blackburn taking the lead.
Cairney was given the time and space he needed to slot a ball behind United’s three centre-halves and, as none of them were able to recover, Rhodes found himself clean through. There was only ever one outcome from there and Paddy Kenny was duly beaten.
Rovers were unfortunate to see a Lee Williamson effort deflected into the side-netting after that too, and all the more so when DJ Campbell’s six-yard effort, off the body of Kenny, was on its way over the line until Tom Lees recovered to clear it with centimetres to spare.
But Blackburn had the comfort of knowing they were the only attacking threat in the game and a second goal duly arrived. Hanley passed up one chance from a Cairney corner but from the next Gestede buried his header beyond Kenny.
Blackburn had a fair claim for it being three before the break as Cairney played Gestede clean through and he went down under the challenge of Luke Murphy in the box, but no decision came from the referee and Gary Bowyer’s men had to settle for a two-goal interval lead.
The penalty shout was brought into greater focus seven minutes into the second half as Leeds got a goal back following a shocking Tommy Spurr error. The left-back failed to notice goalkeeper Simon Eastwood was not getting to Ross McCormack’s errant pass, left it and Sam Byram nipped in to square for Smith – who tapped into an open goal.
It was now game on and Leeds had their chance to feel aggrieved as McCormack appeared to be dragged down by Williamson when clean through, with the striker and Scott Dann then booked for a dust-up that followed a shrug of Taylor’s shoulders.
It was end to end and the official had a third last-man decision to make as Campbell tumbled under a desperate Marius Zaliukas challenge, while in amongst the chaos Smith cleared two scrambled efforts off the line and Alex Mowatt hit the bar for Leeds.
The number of penalty appeals was fast reaching a farcical amount and another was unsuccessful as Smith claimed to be crushed in the box, while Rhodes ensured Blackburn remained a threat with a header which clipped the bar, but it mattered little as Taylor called time.