After earning a point at Bolton, stopper Marco Silvestri warns that one swallow does not a summer make. Leon Wobschall reports.
WALKING on through the wind and the rain, the end of the storm and the golden sky is a way ahead at the moment for Leeds United.
It is not just the elements which are giving the United players a battering at the minute – like they did at Bolton’s wind-swept Macron Stadium on Saturday – but also as they are being asked to man the barricades and front up amid a torrent towards the bottom of the Championship.
For Italian goalkeeper Marco Silvestri, the sight of Leeds having plunged into a relegation battle is probably not what he envisaged when he joined the club amid sunnier skies in the summer.
But Championship football, as well as the winter weather, can be unforgiving and the one thing he knows full well, despite his limited exposure to attritional fights for survival in one of the toughest leagues in Europe, is that Leeds can only win their scrap if they stay strong and resolute.
As they did for the most part at Bolton, from the players on the pitch to the raucous supporters in the away stand, with Silvestri conscious of the need to show similar steel in the weeks ahead – and in no doubt that the players have the right general to lead them into combat in Neil Redfearn.
Silvestri said: “It was important to get a point – one or three – at Bolton and we were very strong.
“We need to stay together with the team and the coach and play together.
“With this system, we are more compact and play better.
“The coach wanted the players who had a good match with Sunderland to play again and I think we played well. We have to keep fighting.”
If Saturday told us one thing it was that Redfearn is not afraid of making big decisions, given his starting line-up.
The promotion of Steve Morison at the expense of top-scorer Mirco Antenucci and the retention of Casper Sloth and Luke Murphy in midfield were brave calls, with Redfearn probably mindful they would have resulted in considerable criticism if Leeds had not picked up a decent result.
At this time of year, ability is often run a close second by character and physical attributes by managers in deciding upon their line-ups, more so when in charge of a side in desperate need of results at the wrong end of the table. Redfearn’s selection said as much.
Some may have questioned the character of United of late, particularly after the lame defeat in their previous away league game at Derby on December 30, but Saturday’s display contained much more belligerence, right down to Morison and Giuseppe Bellusci almost having an on-pitch tear-up shortly before the interval.
The sight of Gaetano Berardi with a black eye in the dressing room at the end, after being injured on the pitch and Sam Byram copping a head wound was also a sight that Redfearn was not unduly worried by. Quite the opposite.
Bumps and a few bruises maybe, but Redfearn says the players’ sense of togetherness has not been dented, despite what has constituted a torrid season in parts this term.
He said: “Saturday was competitive and a typical Roses battle. The good thing is we are battling and that is what we need.
“It was a battling performance at Sunderland and at Bolton, we scrapped for 90 minutes and that is important.
“To say all the change that has happened at this football club this season and to say all the stuff they have been through as a group of players, the togetherness is unbelievable and I think they showed that togetherness – that willingness in wanting to do well (at Bolton).
“Jason Pearce at the end, even though he is out of the picture and not in, was willing his mates to do well. He was saying to the centre-halves: ‘Brilliant, great header and well tackled.’
“That’s great as it is what it is all about. And it might be him in next week. It’s a team game.”
Leeds could not complain about the backing of what constituted as a ‘12th man’ on Saturday, with the 3,918 chilled-to-the-bone visiting supporters witnessing an at-times heart-warming team performance – although the need to chisel out a win or two after a seven-match winless sequence remains acute.
As for Silvestri, it was an afternoon in which he was just grateful that Leeds’ tremendous away support saw their side pick up a decent result – while acknowledging the need to see them celebrating a victory on Saturday is paramount.
He said: “The fans love this team, but we need more points.
“You can’t believe the support sometimes. The support here for the second league is incredible and it is very passionate.
“It is very good. At Sunderland, we had five-and-a-half thousand maybe. It was good to get a point for the fans as they always support us and are always positive. We need them.”
Scraps in the wind and rain in mid-winter, like at Bolton on Saturday, probably were not in the brochure when Silvestri and compatriots Berardi and Bellusci joined, but for the former at least, it summed up why English football is arguably so special to him.
He added: “The weather is very different. But it is not a problem.
“I prefer the football here for the stadiums and the fans. In Italy, the football is good, but when you play here with the stadium and fans, it is another world.
“There was a lot of wind and it was cold and very hard on Saturday. But in the second half, it was better – in the first half, it was very bad.
“I enjoyed it and in the first half, it was very hard with the wind and I needed to be careful.
“If my concentration went down a little bit, it would have been hard. I was very tired, but just in my mind and not physical. But it’s all good.”