Leeds United v Rotherham United: We can’t afford to slip back, insists Cooper

Alex Mowatt's wonderful strike brought victory against Cardiff ' Leeds United's first at home for eight months (Picture: Bruce Rollinson).
Alex Mowatt's wonderful strike brought victory against Cardiff ' Leeds United's first at home for eight months (Picture: Bruce Rollinson).
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WHEN the final whistle blew to signal Leeds United’s record breaking eight-month wait for a home win was over, the joy and relief was palpable all around Elland Road.

Just what that victory over Cardiff City meant to the players was perhaps best expressed in the celebrations that followed Alex Mowatt’s left-foot thunderbolt hitting the back of the net.

As Mowatt slid on his knees in front of the Gelderd End, he was quickly joined by fellow Academy graduate Lewis Cook, Chris Wood and Gaetano Berardi.

Stuart Dallas, the other United player closest to Mowatt when his 25-yard effort flew past David Marshall in the Bluebirds’ goal, was the next to join the party, and then came Liam Cooper.

The 24-year-old had been inside the Leeds half when Mowatt put the home side ahead, but that did not prevent the Hull-born defender from joining in with the celebrations.

“That goal against Cardiff was massive for everyone,” said Cooper to The Yorkshire Post ahead of the West Yorkshire club’s first home outing since that November 3 triumph as Rotherham United travel to Elland Road.

“And I think the way all the lads joined in the celebrations showed what it meant to finally get that home win.

“Our team spirit is so strong that it just felt natural to all celebrate together.

“To go eight months without a home win was pretty dismal. No team should go that long, but we just couldn’t seem to break the run.

“So, it was good to put that all to bed and then back it up with another three points against Huddersfield. Wins do wonders for confidence in football and we are no different.

“The last two weeks, everyone has had a spring in their step. It has been great to see and we go into Rotherham this weekend feeling good.”

Cooper joined Leeds from Chesterfield during the first week of last season and is already on his fifth manager.

One of those former bosses will be in the opposition dugout today as Neil Redfearn makes his first return since being harshly shown the door during the summer.

This constant changing may be unsettling to some, but Cooper is enjoying working for Steve Evans, who – by a strange quirk of fate – was Rotherham manager for what was Redfearn’s final assignment in charge at Elland Road on the last day of the 2014-15 season.

“It is a big game for everyone,” admitted Cooper.

“They need the points but so do we to back up the two wins we got before the break. We can’t afford to slip back now.”

Cooper, born and bred in East Hull, started his career at the KC Stadium with the Tigers.

He joined Hull’s youth set-up at the age of 11 and stayed for 10 years before joining Chesterfield on a permanent basis in January, 2013. The defender then moved to Elland Road a little under 18 months later.

Things could, though, have worked out very differently had Cooper been snapped up during a trial at Leeds a year or so before signing schoolboy forms with Hull.

As it was, United, then in the Premier League, passed on the opportunity – and Cooper went on to enjoy his decade at the KC Stadium.

A couple of top-flight appearances, including a debut against Fernando Torres at Liverpool, followed as a teenager but a true breakthrough never came, hence his move to the Spirieites.

Leeds’s attention was belatedly caught in a pre-season friendly at Chesterfield and Cooper has since become a mainstay of the side, regardless of who has been in the home dugout. He is likely to start today, having recovered from a bout of concussion caused by a nasty clash of heads with team-mate Scott Wootton at Huddersfield Town a fortnight ago,

Cooper was out cold for about 30 seconds following the accidental collision as the two United players tried to find space in the Terriers’ box ahead of a first half corner.

Happily, he was up and about not long after being stretchered from the field to a sympathetic round of applause from the 17,118 crowd.

It meant Cooper was able to follow United’s 3-0 win, achieved thanks to another stunning strike from Mowatt and goals in first-half stoppage time from Mirco Antenucci and Chris Wood.

“The win at Huddersfield was a big one,” added the defender.

“We’d got the three points at home to Cardiff, but we had to back it up or things might have gone a bit flat ahead of the international break.

“Our performance showed how together the lads are. Again, it was vital to get the first goal.

“When we went ahead against Cardiff, everyone was delighted and wanted to celebrate together.

“The big thing for me as well was that we also had something to be able to defend. That was huge, as we hadn’t managed to do that much in other games.”

Considering how buoyed United have been by the recent back-to-back wins, the visit of the bottom club offers a big opportunity to build further momentum.

“Not winning at home was a bit of a burden on our shoulders,” added Cooper. “I wouldn’t say it was affecting us hugely, even if it was at the back of our minds; we just got on with our jobs.

“But, all the same, it is nice that the run is over now and we can look forward. Now, we need to keep climbing the league. If we can keep winning, who knows where we could be in 10 games or so?”