Liam Cooper bemoaned Leeds United’s misfortune but focused on a “performance to build on” after a post denied him an injury-time equaliser in yesterday’s FA Cup defeat at Sunderland.
Cooper claimed United’s display at the Stadium of Light would act as a badly-needed shot in the arm, despite the club’s FA Cup campaign ending in a 1-0 loss.
A deadly Patrick van Aanholt finish midway through the first half saw Gus Poyet’s side safely into the fourth round but the Premier League outfit pushed their luck after half-time, surviving a strong penalty appeal and a last-gasp chance which fell to Cooper.
United’s stand-in captain looked set to force a replay at the very end of a competitive tie but his glancing header came back off Sunderland goalkeeper Costel Pantilimon’s right-hand post.
A disappointed Cooper said he thought the “header was in” but the centre-back – a replacement as skipper for the injured Stephen Warnock – drew encouragement from United’s display ahead of a crucial spell of league fixtures.
Leeds are in the thick of a relegation battle in the Championship and head coach Neil Redfearn made seven changes to his team for yesterday’s FA Cup tie.
Cooper said: “Sunderland are a great team and they were always going to have most of the possession but especially in the second half I thought we took the game to them and created a few chances. They didn’t go in but hopefully we can take a lot from this into our next league game which is very important. It was a good performance to build on. It’ll certainly put us on track. We gave a good account of ourselves.”
Cooper’s chance arrived during four minutes of stoppage time, created by a hanging cross from Luke Murphy. Van Aanholt’s earlier goal had found the net with the help of Leeds goalkeeper Marco Silvestri’s far post.
“I thought my header was in, although it was always going away from the goal,” Cooper said.
“It’s just one of those things: their goal hit the post and went in, ours hit the post and came out. But I’m a big believer in earning your own luck in this game.”
Redfearn, meanwhile, disputed referee Mike Dean’s decision to award a free-kick for a foul by Sebastian Larsson on United’s left-back Charlie Taylor early in the second half.
United’s players appealed en masse for a penalty but Dean ruled that the tackle had been made just outside Sunderland’s box. The decision and a save by Pantilimon from Adryan helped Poyet’s side, who had dominated the first half, to ride a concerted period of pressure.
“It looked like a penalty to me but the referee’s made his decision,” Redfearn said. “You’ve got to abide by it but that came on the back of quite a weight of pressure from us. A goal at that time to make it 1-1 – I think we’d have gone on and won.
“We hit the post, we had Adryan’s chance and the penalty appeal as well. We could have had more than one goal.”
The changes to Redfearn’s line-up led to a change of formation at the Stadium of Light, with United’s boss adopting a 4-2-3-1 system after persisting with a midfield diamond throughout December.
“We changed the shape around and the lads who came in have done themselves no harm at all,” Redfearn said. “I thought the shape looked a lot better. We defended with more width and we attacked with more width.
“But we’ve had no luck and none in the league. A couple of our performances recently were poor but in general they’ve been good.
“We’ve been performing well, we’ve had no luck and we’ve been on the wrong side of some results. The more you get the performance right, the more you get results right. The times when we’ve had results – and I’m the only person who’s got results at Leeds this season – is when the performances have been right too. In the second half I thought we were the better team.
“We were unlucky.”