LIAM COOPER hailed Leeds United’s weekend victory over second-placed Brighton as their most important win of the season with the Whites reaffirming their promotion credentials with a statement of intent.
A brace from prolific striker Chris Wood, who took his goal tally in 2016-17 to an outstanding 27, enabled Leeds to jump up to fourth place in the Championship – eight points clear of eighth-placed Fulham, who surprisingly lost 3-1 at home to Wolves.
On a weekend when none of the division’s top three managed to win, Leeds moved to within two points of Huddersfield Town after their 2-0 triumph over the second-placed Seagulls – successfully negotiating the first instalment of a big top-six double-header with Garry Monk’s side visiting Reading on April 1.
Head coach Monk made a bold selection call in demoting influential defender Pontus Jansson to the bench, with Cooper – last night called into Scotland’s squad – preferred instead, a move vindicated by way of three significant points.
The success keeps Leeds in with an outside chance of catching the top two and Cooper admits that the win tasted sweet with he and his team-mates feeling that they owed Brighton one after a 2-0 defeat in the reverse fixture at the Amex Stadium in December.
Questioned whether the win was United’s most significant of the season, Cooper said: “Yes, definitely. We spoke before the game and said that we owed them one.
“We got a bad result there and it hurt us and we wanted to go out and get the three points back and I think we did everything we could and we came away with it.
“The international break is a bit of a killer now as we have a lot of momentum. But we will take that into the next game. We just cannot wait to go again.
“The pressure is off us and all on others (Newcastle, Brighton and Huddersfield) now and we will take every game as it comes, perform to our best and see where that takes us.”
Monk did not elaborate on the specific reasons why Jansson was demoted to the bench, stressing that the decision was a team-based one, while pledging to continue to put the interests of the team above those of any individual.
He said: “Number one – I will always do what is best for the group. When I pick the team, I will always do what is best for the team. That goes on who we might be playing against and the set-up, but also the principles we have and what we follow on a daily basis.
“I will make those selections and I have shown already that I am prepared to do that. This was one of those occasions.”
While Leeds were left to reflect on a positive weekend, it was a different story for Sheffield Wednesday and Huddersfield following deflating evenings on Friday.
The Owls went down to their second successive loss in a 2-0 home reverse to Reading, but remain in sixth place by virtue of Fulham’s shock home defeat.
The pressure is off us and all on others (Newcastle, Brighton and Huddersfield) now and we will take every game as it comes, perform to our best and see where that takes us.Leeds United’s Liam Cooper
Huddersfield suffered a worrying night at Bristol City on Friday, with a second successive 4-0 loss at Ashton Gate massively compounded by a season-ending injury to influential midfielder Jonathan Hogg.
Hogg fractured his neck after colliding with team-mate Mark Hudson after just eight minutes prompting a 15-minute delay while medical staff attended to him before he was stretchered off amid worrying scenes.
The 28-year-old was discharged from hospital on Saturday afternoon and is now recuperating back in Yorkshire.