Marco Silvestri earned praise for another “top-class” display after he carried Leeds United to a 1-0 win over 10-man Preston North End at Elland Road.
The goalkeeper continued his recovery from a dip in form earlier in the season as a series of saves early in the game and a vital late stop from Neil Kilkenny moved Leeds to within five points of the Championship play-offs.
United were given a major advantage by a disputed red card shown to Preston keeper Jordan Pickford shortly after the half-hour and they claimed the only goal of a scrappy contest when Alan Browne headed Stuart Dallas’ cross past Pickford’s stand-in, Matt Hudson, less than a minute into the second half.
North End fought to snatch a draw late on but Silvestri denied them a point amid growing pressure when he gloved a Kilkenny header over his crossbar on 87 minutes.
Silvestri, 24, has reasserted himself since coming under scrutiny following a series of errors and Leeds head coach Steve Evans said: “I can’t speak highly enough of him.
“He’s a top-class goalkeeper and I’m glad that he’s demonstrating that because it’s easy for people to say it. It’s harder to go out, demonstrate it and prove a point than it is to talk.
“He’s making the kind of saves which could make him a firm favourite here. Our supporters will go away and recognise that he’s played a big part in getting us a win.”
Preston were forced to hand 17-year-old Hudson his debut from the bench after Pickford was penalised for handling outside his box as he attempted to stop Chris Wood reaching a long clearance from Liam Cooper.
Preston manager Simon Grayson – back at Elland Road for the first time since his successful reign at Leeds ended in 2012 – claimed the ball had hit Pickford’s chest and insisted North End’s covering defenders would have prevented a goalscoring opportunity.
But Evans said: “If I’m being totally honest when it first happened I thought he headed it.
“Then we got in the dressing room, the analyst brings it up and it’s a clear sending off.
“The assistant and the referee have got it spot on.”
Grayson said: “The referee made a decision he deemed the right one but the evidence suggests otherwise.
“We have footage where our keeper has his hands in the air but it hit him in the chest area.
“The linesmen also said the centre-halves weren’t covering but I thought they were.
“It was a huge decision and ultimately it cost us the game. I wonder what the story would have been if we’d have had 11 men?”
Grayson, who managed Leeds for more than three years and led the club to promotion from League One in 2010, was given an appreciative reception from the Elland Road crowd before kick-off.
“Coming back to my old club where I enjoyed good times, it was a nice reception,” he said.
“But I still leave here disappointed because as much as I love this club I wanted to turn them over.”