For an insight into the psychological impact of a heavy defeat on a goalkeeper, it is worth listening to Roman Smishko.
The FC Levadia Tallinn captain had gone 13 league games without conceding a goal and was in sight of the European top-flight record heading into Friday's home fixture against FC Tallinna Infonet. Yet, as he admits, the nightmare of conceding seven times in the UEFA Champions League qualifier against AC Sparta Praha ten days earlier was still playing on his mind as Levadia fell to a 3-2 defeat.
Overall, Smishko had managed 15 successive clean sheets – 13 in the Estonian First League and two in the UEFA Champions League – yet this seemingly counted for nothing as the 7-0 drubbing in the second qualifying round first leg sunk in.
On an unhappy night in Prague, Smishko suffered a bang to his head when colliding with a goal post and ended up with concussion, albeit he played the full 90 minutes of the demoralising defeat. Speaking to UEFA.com, he said: "To speak about my well-being, it's more about the seven goals in Prague than about the concussion. It wasn't so easy being back in goal after conceding so many."
Smishko admitted that he was not actually aware of how close he had come to setting a new continental record. He fell 108 minutes short of former Club Brugge KV keeper Dany Verlinden's mark of 1,390 without conceding a goal in a European top flight. "If I'd known that I was approaching the record, Infonet wouldn't have scored a single goal against us," Smishko added with a smile. "I don't follow statistics so much, to be honest. It was more important to beat Infonet for the team than my own individual records, although now you've told me, it's a double blow."
Smishko has travelled around eastern Europe during his career, playing in Lithuania, Belarus and Kyrgyzstan as well as his native Ukraine. His 16 clean sheets helped Levadia become Estonian champions last term, but this year they face a battle to reclaim their title after Friday's setback left them five points behind leaders FC Flora Tallinn. "It's not a disaster yet," he added. "We need to pick ourselves up."
Yet he did cite the "fatigue of the whole team" after their four UEFA Champions League qualifying fixtures in July. "You can have this sort of problem after European matches because of tiredness and a lack of experience of competing in different tournaments at once," he noted.
If the door to Europe has shut for Levadia this season, Smishko's impressive form has kindled his own ambitions of playing elsewhere. "I still think that I could play in a stronger league," he said. "I am an experienced goalkeeper with real physical strength, so you can advertise me! If you are 31 and a goalkeeper, you still have time to do many things."
For the time being, though, the native of Odesa is counting his blessings. He thinks of his home country often and adds: "Odesa is a city which is very hard to leave. You always want to go back there, although, considering the circumstances, I am happy to have what I have. I live in a peaceful country and am doing a job I love."
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