MARCO Silvestri believes Leeds United can show the rest of England what they are made of this term – and the goalkeeper is prepared to put in the hard graft to help them do so.
There was no fluke to the custodian’s three saves in Tuesday night’s EFL Cup penalty shoot-out win against Norwich City as he had been watching their previous penalty attempts beforehand at home with wife Sofia.
It proved a match made in heaven for the Italian, who feels that head coach Garry Monk is also perfectly suited to a rapidly improving Leeds.
Silvestri, United’s No 2 goalkeeper to Rob Green, proved the hero at Elland Road with the Italian also producing a string of fine saves during an epic encounter which ended 1-1 after 90 minutes and 2-2 after extra-time.
The Italian shot-stopper saved his best until last with the 25-year-old saving three penalties in the shootout that Leeds won 3-2.
Spot-kicks from Alex Pritchard, Steven Naismith and Robbie Brady were all saved by Silvestri – with the goalkeeper’s antics in denying Pritchard particularly interesting.
The Norwich midfield player attempted to slot the ball down the middle of the goal but, rather than dive one way, Silvestri stood firm for one of the easiest penalty saves he will make.
After studying footage of Pritchard’s previous spot-kicks, the Italian’s save was the reward for doing his homework.
The former Chievo goalkeeper feels that similar hard work and dilligence throughout the Whites squad could give Leeds every chance of doing something special in 2016-17 as they look to finally end a 12-year exile from the Premier League, having been relegated back in 2004.
As well as being through to the EFL Cup quarter-finals, more important to Leeds is the fact that they are just three points off the Championship’s play-offs.
Silvestri said of life under Monk: “It’s very good. It’s a good moment for us and it’s important to continue to maintain a run – we could have lost against Norwich as we were playing against a good team and it was a very difficult match.
“We feel good now and the team feels very good.
“We are playing well in the Championship and in the Cup, the starting XI and the reserves are playing well and this is very important for the gaffer because now he knows that every player he has in the squad can play.
“I think we have a good team, the work ethic is good and so is the gaffer as well and I think we have a chance to show the whole of England something this season.
“It’s not simple because the Championship is very long and very difficult.
“But we are here and we are three points off the play-offs and it’s very good for us so you never know. You just have to watch it game by game and play well the next game and then go on to the one after.
“There are some great teams in the Championship this season and it’s difficult but we can fight to achieve our aims.”
Leeds faced one of the strongest teams in the Championship in Alex Neil’s Norwich, who dominated the first half and led after 14 minutes through Pritchard.
But Marcus Antonsson hauled Leeds level two minutes before the break as the Whites improved.
United then dominated Norwich throughout the second half which ultimately ended goalless.
Yet with Monk having used all three substitutes, right-back Lewie Coyle was injured and unable to continue, leaving Leeds with 10 men heading into extra-time.
Norwich soon made their numerical advantage count and looked to be easing into the quarter-finals when Nelson Oliveira headed the Canaries into a 99th-minute lead.
Leeds came roaring back to equalise through the predatory Chris Wood with 11 minutes left and Silvestri then proved the toast of Elland Road in the shootout.
Explaining how he had the Canaries and Pritchard in particular taped, Silvestri continued: “Before the game, I watched penalties at home with my wife and I told her: ‘him, he shoots in the middle tonight’.
“The idea was to stay where I was but when you are there it’s difficult to stay because if he shoots right or left you are left there!
“It’s difficult staying and I don’t think I will do that any more because it’s horrible – but I saved it.
“Penalty shoot-outs are always a roulette but the preparation was good and I think that gave me a good chance.”
Silvestri’s fine showing will also give Monk food for thought as to who should be his first-choice goalkeeper but Silvestri said: “Right now I think it’s difficult because the team are doing well in the Championship.
“It’s difficult to change the keeper but I do my maximum in training and I hope maybe the gaffer is now in a little bit of difficulty with that decision.”