Downcast Leeds United skipper Liam Cooper is ready to dust himself down and start all over again, but is professional enough to know that might have to happen from the bench. Leon Wobschall reports.
IT remains to be seen if Liam Cooper and Sol Bamba line up alongside each other in the heart of the Leeds United defence on Wednesday night – with Giuseppe Bellusci’s availability presenting Neil Redfearn with a conundrum.
As the saying goes, three into two won’t go. Someone will be the odd man out and experience the personal disappointment which goes with it. That’s football.
United captain Cooper cut a downcast figure when he spoke to the press in the wake of Saturday’s 3-2 home loss to Watford, with the 23-year-old, to his credit, fronting up and acknowledging that the case for the defence left a fair bit to be desired.
For his part, Cooper is desperate to take his place in the heart of the back four. But equally, he is professional enough to understand that head coach Redfearn will have a decision to make ahead of tomorrow evening’s home encounter with Mick McCarthy’s promotion-chasing Ipswich Town with Bellusci back in the fray after serving a two-match ban.
Cooper said: “Everyone will want to put that (Watford) result right and the manager will pick the team which he thinks can go and win on Wednesday night and we will back him no matter what it is whether we are playing or not.
“Obviously, it would be disappointing (if not playing), but it is down to the manager at the end of the day in terms of what team he puts out to go and win the game.”
The Championship’s unforgiving and relentless schedule can sometimes be a good or a bad thing. For United, after two ultimately disappointing results against Watford and Brighton, ‘getting back on the horse’ with a midweek encounter is something that works in their favour, according to Cooper.
Dwelling on a defeat for a week is far from ideal, with United having the chance to right the wrongs of the Watford performance, albeit against a side which, like the Hornets, will savagely punish any defensive inadequacies.
Ipswich certainly did that back on December 6 after United claimed the fillip of taking an early lead at Portman Road, thanks to Mirco Antenucci’s strike, the last time that the club’s top-scorer managed to find the net.
The Suffolk outfit outfought and outgunned United for the rest of the game en route to a powerhouse 4-1 victory which by no means flattered them.
United players will not need telling twice about the perils of a similar performance tomorrow against a side which is physically strong and well organised and seriously competitive across the pitch.
But if United require a template to follow, they should harken back to the Bournemouth display on January 20 when they got in the faces of their high-flying counterparts and took the Cherries’ scalp for the second time this season.
Not forgetting the high-octane triumph over another title-chaser at Elland Road in Derby on November 29 as well.
Cooper said: “After going 2-0 up on Saturday, it’s never nice to give that lead away and go and lose.
“The lads are disappointed, but football has got a fast way of turning itself around and obviously we have a big game on Wednesday now when Ipswich come to town.
“Hopefully, we can turn it around and get the result we need.
“I think we have great form against the top teams this season and we will be looking to get a win for the fans on Wednesday night.
“We know what they are about and they don’t pass the ball as much Watford passed it and I know what I have got to do personally and what we must do as a team to get a result.
“We did well for an hour against Watford and we know we have got to keep it going for 90 minutes.
“I don’t think you can guarantee to play well every week. But if you give a good account of yourself and everything you have got, I think the fans will accept that sometimes. You are not going to play brilliantly every game.
“We have just got to look up. It was not particularly great (against Watford) and we have just got to forget about that and hope to be better.
“We have had some great form and you might want to put it down to an off-day when we were off. But we were not good enough and hope to turn it around.”
For both Cooper and Bamba – the latter in particular – Saturday represented a bruising 90 minutes and the polar opposite of his experiences seven days earlier against Middlesbrough.
Bamba turned in one of the best individual defensive performances by a Leeds player in a good while at the Riverside, but against the pacy and clever duo of Troy Deeney and Matej Vydra, he had an, at times, torrid afternoon he will not want to recount in a hurry.
Cooper also suffered with personal and collective standards slipping, with the saving grace being that Leeds’ new year renaissance and run of five wins in six matches has at least banished some serious relegation fears in taking 15 points from a possible 18 between January 20 and February 21.
As it stands, Leeds have a 10-point buffer above the drop zone, with the plight of Millwall, Saturday’s opponents Wigan Athletic and Blackpool looking increasingly desperate.
But given a number of sound defensive showings in that purple patch, Cooper and co appreciate the need to get back on track in that respect.
He said: “I don’t think it was like me and Sol on Saturday. We have just got to get our heads right and the manager has told us we have done well and we have just got to get back to how it was and we will definitely do that on Wednesday night.
“Sol is a great guy, a lovely guy and experienced guy. He’s been brilliant to play alongside and hopefully we can put that down to an off-day and change it on Wednesday night.”