NEARLY SIX and a half years have passed since Liam Cooper’s last outing at Millwall.
Then a 20-year-old taking in just his sixth league game for Hull City, the centre-back faced what proved to be one of the best strikers in the world.
Wind the clock back to April 7, 2012 and Millwall’s starting line up featured an 18-year-old Harry Kane, still cutting his teeth on his second loan spell away from Tottenham Hotspur.
On that day Kane netted goal number six of 10 in 27 games for the Lions – heading home the opener en route to a 2-0 victory which Cooper admits he can remember little about.
One outing, one loss at Millwall for the defender and eight defeats from nine visits for the Leeds United side that Cooper captains six and a half years on.
But United’s skipper is keen to play down the significance of United’s record at the New Den - or the inevitably hostile atmosphere – with Cooper treating this weekend’s match like any other game – and one in which he will not have to deal with Kane.
Cooper missed last season’s 1-0 loss at the New Den with injury and said of his own experiences of games at Millwall: “I played there with Hull years ago and I have been on the bench with Hull years ago and I just see it as any other game.
“It doesn’t really get to me, you go on the pitch and all is forgotten about what is going on around you.
“Obviously, it has its history and all that but for me personally it doesn’t affect me and I’ll be trying to get that through to the team as well.
“We know what we need to do, we need to go and win our personal battles out there and we failed to do that last year.
“But we know if we play to the best of our ability we will give anyone in this league a good game and hopefully we can get a positive result.”
Instead of dealing with 2018 World Cup golden boot winner Kane, Cooper will this time have to keep tabs on Millwall’s Steve Morison who has already stoked the coals by insisting he will turn into Zlatan Ibrahimovic no less for the visit of Leeds.
Cooper has since laughed off such comments – “tripe” as the Whites skipper labelled such talk – and in any case, back in 2012 Cooper was asked to deal with Kane. Cooper recalled: “It was me and another young lad Sonny Bradley (at centre-back)
“But that’s a long time ago now. I can’t remember it too well. I think it was my old man who reminded me a couple of years ago that I’d played against him so he can’t have ripped up trees then but obviously he’s progressed now and he’s unbelievable.”
Progress is also being made at Cooper’s Leeds – who sit top of the Championship and unbeaten after six games played – though United’s captain is wary that his men are still barely one eighth into the current Championship campaign.
“We know we have done nothing,” said the skipper. “We are six games in and we’ve got to keep going.”
Leeds were also top when travelling to Millwall this time last year only for a 1-0 defeat to form the first of seven losses of the club’s next nine league games. Cooper, though, hopes that 12 months on, Marcelo Bielsa’s Leeds United are a different breed.
“I think the experience last year will pull the lads through,” said Cooper.
“We have all been abused as footballers and these things happen but I think we are all professional enough to get over it and go and play our game. We know what we need to do, we know it’s going to be hostile. But it’s one of them things where you don’t worry too much about the crowd when you get on the pitch.
“I think that was one of the big things last year was that we went there in form and expected to beat Millwall.
“Nobody in this league goes to Millwall and has an easy game and that’s the way it will be on Saturday. There are no easy games in this league and Millwall is going to be no different. We have just got to go there and play to the best of our ability and get our rhythm and the result will take care of itself.”