Hero-of-the-hour Marco Silvestri doesn’t know what his long-term future holds - but a superb performance in Tuesday's League Cup win over Norwich City did him no harm. Phil Hay reports.
The best of Marco Silvestri’s penalty saves against Norwich City was his last from Robbie Brady. Beaten into the ground and up over the crossbar, it invoked memories of Gordon Banks. But it was his first – the nerves-of-steel stand-off with Alex Pritchard – which Silvestri executed with total perfection.
The goalkeeper and his wife, Sofia, spent time before the League Cup quarter-final watching Norwich’s previous penalties and analysing the mindset of individual players. “I told her – ‘him (Pritchard), he shoots in the middle tonight’,” Silvestri said. When Pritchard walked up to take Norwich’s second attempt in a wonderfully tense shoot-out, the Italian stood his ground, resisted the “horrible” urge to dive one way and beat away an attempt to find the centre of his net.
From a keeper’s perspective penalty shoot-outs can be more than a matter of blind guesswork and Silvestri’s performance on Tuesday, the pick of so many immense displays on an evening when Leeds finished with 10 men, owed much to his own preparation.
Norwich were denied three times by him, rendering a saved Kalvin Phillips attempt and a wild miss by Matt Grimes irrelevant in the end. It took all of Silvestri’s nerve to follow through with his strategy against Pritchard.
“The idea was this but when you are there, it’s difficult to stay still,” Silvestri said. “If he shoots right or left then you are left there. It’s difficult and I don’t think I’ll do that any more because it’s horrible. But I saved it.
“I watched the penalties and I had an idea in my mind but it’s difficult to stay with one idea. It was very difficult not to dive. When you are there you feel something different, you feel that you should follow your instinct. Penalty shoot-outs are always a roulette but the preparation was good and I think that gave me a good chance.”
When Brady stepped up with the shoot-out locked at 2-2 and one attempt remaining for both sides before sudden death, Silvestri threw himself to his left and got a touch to Brady’s low shot, knocking in into the turf and over his goal at an improbable, vertical angle. “When I touched it I thought ‘oh no it’s gone in’ because I didn’t the see the ball,” Silvestri said. “I don’t know what happened.”
The keeper, like head coach Garry Monk, tried his best to watch as few of United’s penalties as possible and had his back turned when Ronaldo Vieira sealed a 3-2 win. “I watched (Kemar) Roofe’s penalty because he’s been trying a lot with me in training and I was absolutely sure he’d score. The others I didn’t watch.”
The thrilling end to a classic cup tie – “a proper English cup tie” as Monk called it – rounded off one of the most engrossing games that Elland Road has seen in years.
Leeds were twice a goal down and played out extra-time with 10 men after Lewie Coyle injured a knee with the last of Monk’s substitutions already on the field. United’s boss made eight changes to his starting line-up, protecting others before Saturday’s league game against Burton Albion, but his team overran Norwich after surviving a one-sided and disjointed first half. In two-and-a-half years at Leeds, Silvestri has not played better.
“We played well and everyone gave their maximum," he said. "Everyone showed everything because a lot of players don’t play a lot. It was a very important match for us. When we have the chance we need to show everything and play well. It’s not simple because when you don’t play it’s difficult to have that performance but every player had a good match. I worked hard for this and I’m very happy.”
The past few months have been turbulent for Silvestri. His place as first-choice was threatened by the signing of Rob Green in July and his involvement at any level was put in further jeopardy when Monk sent him home from Leeds’ pre-season tour of Ireland. Monk was unimpressed with Silvestri’s initial attitude but the former Chievo keeper was reintegrated before the end of August. Green, however, is well established as Monk’s number one and despite his performance on Tuesday, Silvestri admitted that he does not expect a chance in the league to come his way soon.
“Right now I think it’s difficult because the team are doing well and in the Championship we are in a good position in the table,” he said. “It’s difficult to change the keeper. But I’m here and I do my maximum in training.
“I hope the gaffer is now in a little bit of difficulty (about whether to keep faith with Green) but I don’t expect to play this Saturday, or next Saturday. Maybe in the future. I don’t know.”
Silvestri is under contract at Leeds until 2018 and has remained at the club despite so many of the players who arrived alongside him during the huge influx of 2014 moving on. His peripheral role, however, might not suit a goalkeeper who turns 26 in March and has appeared only three times this season.
“I love this club and I love the city,” Silvestri said. “This is my first big team in my career so I think Leeds for me is really important. We have a good team and I think we have a chance to show to the whole of England something this year. It’s not simple because the Championship is very long and very difficult.
“But the problem now is that I need to play and if nothing changes here then I don’t know what’s going to happen.”