Liam Cooper wants Leeds United to pick themselves up after a “disappointing” week and stay well-placed in a league which he thinks is devoid of runaway promotion candidates.
Cooper is hoping a win over Sheffield Wednesday at Elland Road will redeem the points dropped during Darko Milanic’s first few days as head coach and leave United prominent in the Championship during the forthcoming international break.
Milanic’s first game in charge ended in a 2-0 defeat at Brentford last weekend and Leeds were held to a goalless draw by Reading at home on Wednesday night.
United are 12th in the Championship with 10 matches gone – four points off the play-offs and six short of leaders Norwich City – and a Yorkshire derby against Sheffield Wednesday will take the club into a two-week interval, a prime opportunity for Milanic to work closely with his new squad.
Cooper, who made a surprise return to Leeds’ starting line-up in place of left-back Stephen Warnock on Wednesday evening, said: “On a whole the lads will be disappointed because we should have done better on Saturday and maybe should have won against Reading. We need to win our home games but two or three wins on the bounce and you’re straight back up there.
“No-one is running away with the league, it’s so tough again, and we’ll be looking to get a result on the board tomorrow.
“Derbies are always good games to play in.
“They (Sheffield Wednesday) will try to make an impact on us and we’ll try to make an impact on them.
“At the end of the day it comes down to whichever team plays best on the day.”
Cooper’s inclusion against Reading – his first start since the end of August – came at the expense of a player in Warnock who has been one of United’s more consistent performers this season.
Warnock’s demotion to the bench came in the aftermath of criticism of him by club owner Massimo Cellino after Leeds’ defeat at Brentford, though Milanic took responsibility for the decision afterwards, saying he had used Cooper to combat the threat of Reading winger Nick Blackman.
Cooper – a central defender throughout his career – admitted that his selection was a surprise but said: “I’m here to do a job and I’m a left-footed player.
“It’s difficult stepping in at left-back but it’s something I’m willing to have a crack at.
“Stevie’s a great player and everyone knows that.
“It doesn’t go unnoticed by the lads. It’s very difficult for me to come in and carry on as he’s been playing because he’s been brilliant for us.
“But I’ve got to do a job and hopefully I did that. I’m excited to play any game for this club. It’s a massive opportunity for me to be here.”
Cooper, however, said United’s performance against Reading had shown noticeable improvement after a difficult afternoon away to Brentford.
“I thought we passed the ball a lot better and made options off the ball,” he said.
“It was easier to find a pass and we defended better so that was good and a clean sheet’s massive – especially after Saturday.”