Yeovil Town 1 Leeds United 2

Gary McAllister was the unfortunate victim of that downward spiral in December of 2008; the price, his job.

His successor, Simon Grayson, stood on the cusp of identical form yesterday but United's players rallied to protect him at Huish Park, conjuring an essential win which offered Grayson breathing space and lifted a dark cloud from the club's season.

At no stage prior to United's game against Yeovil Town had the board at Elland Road indicated that the future of United's manager would depend on the result in Somerset - Grayson described his most recent discussion with chairman Ken Bates as "very positive" - but a fifth defeat in as many matches might have left Grayson fearing a knock at his door.

Unpredictable though the strategy of changing managers can be, it is a well-trodden route for clubs in peril.

United were that club after their depressing loss to Swindon Town on Saturday but hope springs eternal, generated at last by a victory of the utmost importance.

A draw in Somerset was of no tangible value to Leeds or their manager, a small step forward at a time when giant strides are needed.

Their defeat of Yeovil kept automatic promotion in view with six games to play, a defiant gesture to those who were resigning Leeds to the play-offs.

The inspiration that Grayson has been searching for without success came at Huish Park from an unlikely but influential source, the club's captain Richard Naylor.

The centre-back was a striker in his formative years and that hidden talent showed itself as two headed chances brought him two goals in the space of six first-half minutes.

It was a match-winning performance from a player whose Yorkshire roots will have seen him suffer as greatly as any of United's players while the club's season decayed.

The effect of that decay was underlined by the presence of Leeds in fourth position in League One before this match, their second fixture in swift succession.

But the risk of panic setting in subsided in Somerset, the best possible end to an Easter weekend which asked much of Leeds physically and mentally.

United's squad had fewer than 48 hours to digest their defeat to Swindon and prepare for Yeovil and Grayson gave careful thought to his strategy at Huish Park, wary of exhausted legs and minds.

In the end he settled on only two changes, dropping Mike Grella and Shane Lowry to make way for Max Gradel and Leigh Bromby.

Gradel for Grella was a straight swap - an inspired one as it turned out - but Bromby's appearance at right-back required the ever-versatile
Andrew Hughes to revert to the left-side of defence, another attempt by Grayson's to restore stability to his team.

His tactics worked as intended, despite a spell of horrible tension in the final 25 minutes of the game.

Thoughts of the pressing job in hand were suspended once more for the length of a minute's silence in memory of Christoper Loftus and Kevin Speight, the United supporters murdered in Istanbul a decade ago.

As promised, the club's following at Huish Park turned their backs on the pitch for the first 60 seconds of the game, a protest against the continuing absence of acceptable justice for their fellow fans.

The demonstration was carried out to a man.

It concluded in time for the crowd behind Shane Higgs' goal to see United's goalkeeper turn behind a shot from Terrell Forbes, the first exchange of the afternoon in the fifth minute.

Forbes has scored only once in more than 10 years as a professional footballer, and a goal from the centre-back would have summed up perfectly the corner that Leeds were trapped in.

Higgs' reaction was routine, a situation he ought to have dealt with, but Alex McCarthy produced a more anxious parry at the other end of the field with 17 minutes played.

Yeovil's goalkeeper dropped to his right to meet a Robert Snodgrass strike with both hands, palming the ball behind. Snodgrass had been the most likely threat before then, dropping a lob onto the roof of McCarthy's net after turning quickly inside the box.

His sporadic efforts were symptomatic of a measured start in which neither team cut loose. Higgs palmed down a volley from Gavin Tomlin and watched a header from Steven Caulker sink into his side-netting;

Neill Collins, meanwhile, was the recipient of the first booking when he lost a yard on Tomlin and dragged the striker to the ground.

In those circumstances, the strange nature of Naylor's first goal in the 29th minute was almost appropriate.

United's captain met a delivery from Jonathan Howson with a header at the back post which appeared to be an attempt to play the ball back across goal. McCarthy anticipated that and was badly out of position when Naylor's touch drifted over his head and dropped into the net before Craig Alcock could clear it.

If his finish was at all fortuitous, Naylor did not care. He peeled away with a clenched fist, well aware of the importance of United's lead and the opportunity it offered.

The positive effect on the players around him was staggering. Twice in two minutes, Beckford failed to convert inviting chances and McCarthy repelled a stinging shot from the excellent Gradel with one hand.

His save was rendered worthless when Naylor struck for a second time, 10 minutes before the interval.

The centre-back timed his run to meet a Neil Kilkenny corner and McCarthy had no argument with the clinical header which flew across him with perfect accuracy.

Grayson suddenly found himself sitting on his first victory for four weeks. "Naylor's on a hat-trick," was the away end's chant in a precious moment of delight.

He almost completed it when his header from another Kilkenny corner bounced a foot beyond McCarthy's goal at the start of the second half, deceiving the keeper again.

A third goal would have given Yeovil no chance of a reprieve, though their struggle to escape their own half made a fightback wholly unlikely.

The main barrage came at McCarthy, who dealt with shots from Beckford, Snodgrass and Gradel and saw Naylor, his nemesis for the day, force a goalline clearance from Craig Davies, the chance gifted to United's captain by a defence incapable of managing set-pieces.

A flick from Kilkenny was also hacked away desperately as Leeds threatened to swamp their hosts.

But in the thick of the onslaught, Yeovil found inspiration of their own on 65 minutes when Dean Bowditch skipped away from Naylor and cut a shot across Higgs at the end of their first fluent attack of the half.

From then on United hovered on the edge, holding their breath when Michael Doyle's mis-hit clearance allowed Shaun MacDonald to lash a shot over Higgs' crossbar.

The margin of inaccuracy was far smaller when Tomlin's header from Andrew Welsh's corner deflected wide by a matter of inches.

It was, in a sense, a defining period of United's season, the frantic defence of a victory that Grayson's players could not contemplate surrendering. Their campaign seemed to rest on it and the ecstatic reaction at full-time told its own story.

Yeovil Town: McCarthy, Alcock, Caulker, Forbes, Smith, Davies (Welsh 64), Williams, Kalala, MacDonald, Tomlin, Bowditch. Subs (not used): Jones, Murtagh, Martin, Murray, Downes, Hutchins.

Leeds United: Higgs, Bromby, Naylor, Collins, Hughes, Howson, Doyle, Kilkenny (Johnson 88), Snodgrass, Gradel, Beckford (Watt 89). Subs (not used): Ankergren, Dickov, Grella, Parker, Lowry.

Referee: K Wright (Cambridgeshire).

Attendance: 6,308.