How Liam Cooper is a leading example of Leeds United's mentality in the promotion race
Leeds United continue their push for Premier League football at Swansea City this weekend.
Leeds United had barely finished celebrating Patrick Bamford’s goal at Elland Road before Liam Cooper was stood in front of the television cameras.
“That’s quite a statement, isn’t it?” Cooper is asked.
The Leeds captain, with sweat still dripping from his forehead, replies: “Everyone is going to say it was a statement, but we’re just pleased with the three points.”
Bamford’s effort had rounded off an emphatic victory for the Whites, who put Stoke City to the sword in stunning fashion as they struck five times against the Potters.
Cooper allowed himself a swift embrace at full-time with his team-mates, even a fist pump, but there were no celebrations or moments of reflection.
Leeds could’ve been forgiven for enjoying the moment. United, though, were having none of it and neither was Cooper, even when pushed again on their position in the table.
“All we’re thinking about is Sunday,” he continued. “We’ve got a massive game away at Swansea. It’ll be a tough game for us, that’s where all our eggs are, they’re in that basket.”
Cooper headed off for a shower in the knowledge that Leeds were edging closer to their ultimate goal; the one really worth celebrating.
Seven points is now all that separates the Whites from Premier League football – and they have four games in which to acquire them.
After 16 years in the wilderness of the Football League, Leeds can almost smell the riches of the top flight and everything that it would bring.
This, though, is the Championship and Marcelo Bielsa’s side know more than most how quickly it can bite back just as you think you have it all figured out.
As Cooper emerged from the changing room and onto his Zoom press conference with the rest of the media, the defender’s attitude had not changed.
It was all business and that same mentality – which has got Leeds into top spot and six points clear of third place – reared its head once again.
“We perform to the best of our ability for 90 minutes,” he told the YEP.
“That will always be the message. You can’t take your foot off the gas, you have to go hell for leather and that’s what we do and what we have done all season as a team.
“That’s the way we do it. It will always be my message to the players. We just have to keep going.”
United’s demolition job of Stoke was all the more impressive, given Leeds had sat back and watched promotion rivals Brentford and West Brom secure wins in midweek to ramp up the pressure at the top end of the table.
Bees boss Thomas Frank even asked for an answer, which he duly received.
The Whites will again this weekend kick-off in the knowledge of other teams results, but it’s hard to know if it is a blessing or a curse.
“We can only concentrate on ourselves, don’t worry about anybody else,” Cooper continued.
“That’s been the message all week. Especially from the manager, don’t worry about what anybody else is doing just worry about us.
“We know what we’ve got to do to get our best and that all came out. We’ve got to go and do that every game now until the end of the season, that’s the most important thing for us.
“We prepare the same, we do everything the same, we’re just playing last.
“I’d be lying if I said we didn’t look at other results because it’s that time of the season where everybody does but we know what we need to do.
“We know we need to concentrate on us, and us only. The rest will take care of itself.”
Elland Road was empty on Thursday, as football grounds will continue to be up and down the country for the rest of the season at the very least.
It is easy, though, to imagine just how raucous LS11 would have been watching Leeds land another major blow in the race for promotion.
United will travel to the Liberty Stadium tomorrow to take on Swansea City in similar conditions.
Bielsa’s men would normally be backed by a vocal travelling contingent in South Wales, but Cooper and his team-mates know that the Whites support is as strong as ever, even if the fanbase cannot show it in person.
“It’s difficult, we know the fans are with us,” he concluded.
“We see their messages and we’re all in it together.
“We’ll take it one game at a time – I know everybody gets a bit anxious, we do as well but we’ve got to get through this together.
“The fans are with us and we know that, we’re just sorry they can’t be in there but it is what it is. We have to be professional and we’ll do that.”