LEEDS UNITED captain Liam Cooper made his 100th appearance for the club last week – a rare feat in modern times. He is hoping Leeds can get back to winning ways at Bristol City today. Phil Hay reports.
Elland Road felt so flat after last weekend’s defeat to Reading that Liam Cooper failed to spot any personal significance. It was Monday afternoon, and with the help of a few messages on Twitter, when the penny finally dropped on his 100th Leeds United appearance.
His century is a mile short of Leeds’ all-time record but it is something of a landmark at a club where the transition of players has been constant for the past decade or more. No member of United’s current squad has appeared more times for United than Cooper. Stuart Dallas is two games short of bringing 100 up.
Cooper’s oblivious state a week ago was symptomatic of a situation which precludes any navel gazing. Reading’s 1-0 win was Leeds’ third loss in a row and their fourth in five league matches, a sobering dig in the ribs for a team who led the Championship a month ago. Those statistics are more immediate and pressing than Cooper’s individual record.
“Not a disaster,” the centre-back said when asked to describe the form but United’s captain does not want the slide to continue any longer. Sixth play fourth this afternoon as Leeds travel to Bristol City and the club have Sheffield United, Derby County and Brentford away to come in the next fortnight. “Everybody knows the Championship,” Cooper said. “It’s tough – but you can’t sit feeling sorry for yourselves.”
There is a degree of weakened morale at Leeds, where both Cooper and head coach Thomas Christiansen agree that confidence is down. Cooper, however, felt an improvement in the atmosphere as this week went on, building towards a game at Ashton Gate which the defender was fairly close to defining as a must-win fixture.
“We’re professionals, we get on with it and we know the situation we’re in at the minute,” Cooper said. “It’s not a disaster, it’s just a bad few games, and we’ll be leaving that behind us.
“We know in this league that we’ve proved we can win three, four or five games on the bounce but we don’t want to get used to this. It’s not a nice feeling. (The training ground) wasn’t a nice place in the first few days of this week and I hate being around here when it’s like that.
“Confidence isn’t brilliant because it never is when you’re losing games. It’s a lot easier to be confident when you’re winning. But you’ve got to find confidence in yourself and that rolls onto the players around you. I’ll be doing everything I can to get the boys up for it but I don’t think that’ll be needed. The boys are up for it.”
It was put to Cooper that Leeds, regardless of the fix they are in, would have taken this scenario: sixth in the table after 12 games. “I believe so,” he said, “but you’re always wanting to better yourselves. If this hadn’t have happened we’d be top of the league. That’s the Championship but we’ll be doing everything we can to put it right because we can’t stay like this much longer.”
You’ve got to find confidence in yourself and that rolls onto the players around you.Leeds United’s Liam Cooper
United’s results have put Christiansen’s formation and tactics under scrutiny, posing questions about his trusted 4-2-3-1, the players he is using regularly and those he is routinely leaving out. Cooper, now into his fourth season with Leeds, has been a mainstay in the centre of defence and was partially responsible for a run of sixth consecutive clean sheets in August and September. Leeds have not kept one since Millwall inflicted their first defeat last month.
Cooper admitted he had spotted signs of fatigue in recent games but said there was no concern about the system being used. “We’re 100 per cent confident with it,” he said. “We went six games without conceding a goal and scoring goals so we’re confident. We just haven’t been at it.
“I don’t think much has changed. We’ve maybe looked a bit tired in the last couple of games but you’re going to get those feelings during the season. It’s about how you come through them. We need to put it right and put it right early.”
Christiansen, however, insisted the club’s form was not indicative of a lacking of energy and pointed to an increased level of intensity in the second half of their defeat to Reading as proof of that.
“I believe that players always try to find excuses,” United’s head coach said.
“If we look back at the analysis and the measurements we have – if you felt tired in the beginning against Reading, how can you change that and be so good in the second half? Those things don’t fit to each other. That’s not the reality.”
For Cooper, who learned of his selection as Christiansen’s captain when the Dane hung the armband on his peg before Leeds’ first game of the season at Bolton Wanderers, the drop in impetus asks much of him behind the scenes and in front of them.
His form in the first two months of the season was as convincing as any other period of his 100-game stay at Elland Road. Cooper, who Leeds signed for £600,000 from Chesterfield in 2014, said he was “improving every day”.
“I’ve changed a lot and I’ve come on leaps and bounds as a player. With my overall concentration in games, there used to be a lapses and I struggled with the step to the Championship but I feel like I’m coming on.
“A hundred games at this unbelievable club is good.”
Would his style of captaincy need to change with United’s squad under pressure?
“I don’t believe so,” Cooper said. “I try to be professional and keep the lads on the job all the time, even when we’re winning.
“It’s so easy to become complacent when you’re winning and down in the dumps when you’re losing.
“You’ve got to leave it on an even keel.
“Training’s been sharp and we know what we’re going into this game to do.”
Bristol City, as their manager Lee Johnson pointed out this week, are yet to roll over for anyone and have lost only once in a tight meeting with Birmingham City in August. Their record shows 12 games without defeat in both the Championship and the League Cup, and no shortage of goals scored.
“These are the easier games to get up for, the big games,” Cooper said. “We’ll be going full tilt.
“Sometimes we’ve got to go away from home and win ugly, maybe not be as good as we want to be but take a win. At the start of the season we were winning in good style but this has opened the eyes of a few people who’ve come into the squad.
“Bristol City have been doing very well. They’ve brought in quite a few players like ourselves and they’re up there as well. You could call it a six-pointer if you wanted. We can’t wait to get there.”