Birmingham City v Leeds United - ‘We know what we have got to do,’ says captain Liam Cooper

THE lyrics of Birmingham City’s stirring club anthem Keep Right On To The End Of The Road should chime with Leeds United captain Liam Cooper and his team-mates.

Applauding the fans: Liam Cooper at the end of the match against Preston North End. Picture: Bruce Rollinson

It speaks of roads in life being filled with ‘joys and sorrows’ and journeying on despite being ‘tired and weary’.

The need for courage and strong hearts is also referenced in the song – originally written by Scottish singer Harry Lauder.

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The words serve as a metaphor for Leeds’ own journey to what they view as their home; the Premier League as they prepare for this afternoon’s visit to a place they know well in St Andrew’s.

The trip back to the big time has proved an arduous and hazardous one at times, but Leeds can at least see their craved-for destination on the horizon again with the club in their best position to end their top-flight exile since their inglorious relegation in the Spring of 2004.

As ever, with everyone connected with Leeds, there is caution and no ‘chicken-counting’.

What cannot be disputed is that Leeds’ reaction from getting within touching distance of a return last season has been admirable.

Their position of second place in the Championship with an eight-point buffer over the side one place below the automatic promotion positions in Brentford is one that all and sundry at Elland Road would have gladly taken before a ball was kicked in early August.

Not that it has been totally smooth, with a three-match sequence without a win bearing testament to that as Leeds seek to sign off the old year and decade on a positive note in the ‘Second City’ today.

Speaking ahead of the second instalment of a testing festive and New Year period, which also sees Leeds visit leaders West Bromwich on January 1, Cooper told The Yorkshire Post: “It has been a good year, but nothing is done in December. We wish it was, but it is not.

“We know what we have got to do and the standards we set ourselves to be at our best and that is what we have got to do.

“We cannot look back now. We have got to keep looking forward and preparing well and keep performing.

“This time of year is about sacrifices. That is the life of a professional footballer.

“We all know how busy it is over this period and how much of a chance it is to win some games and get a good run going.

“We are all used to it and we are professionals and that is the way it is.”

Leeds head to the Midlands on the back of a 1-1 Boxing Day draw with Preston, with it remaining to be seen how important that Stuart Dallas’s dramatic late equaliser proves in the context of the season.

The result may have represented a missed opportunity, moreso given the fact that West Bromwich dropped points at Barnsley, but perspective should also be provided.

The course of a season is rarely stress-free, as Leeds and Cooper can attest. Nerves may be apparent among a fanbase who are positively ravenous in their desire to see their heroes return to the Premier League – make that desperate – but their on-pitch captain acknowledges that goes with the territory.

He observed: “There will be nerves at every stadium in the country at the minute. There is always nervous energy around every stadium.

“We are used to playing with this expectation and pressure and we know what we have got to do.

“We are a good team who don’t give up and that is the way it will always be.

“Birmingham is going to be another tough game, they are a good side, they are strong in this league and we are excited to go there and, hopefully, get the performance and the levels of performance that we are used to.

“I think they have changed the way they play a little bit.

“They used to be a bit more direct in the past and now they are trying to play a bit.”

Visits to St Andrew’s have proved forgettable ones in the past two seasons by virtue of single-goal defeats, including one almost exactly two years ago to the day.

The desire to avoid a third successive defeat at the home of the Blues and secure an reinvigorating result to end 2019 in style will be fervent–- and woe betide anyone who might suggest that Leeds already have one eye on the second part of their West Midlands double against the Baggies at The Hawthorns on New Year’s Day.

They face a Blues side, managed by former Elland Road assistant Pep Clotet, who ended a dispiriting run of three successive defeats with a hard-fought draw at Blackburn Rovers on Boxing Day.

That said, the Blues’ home form has left a fair bit to be desired of late, with Clotet’s side having not won in their past four outings at St Andrew’s.

In mitigation, they did push West Bromwich all the way in their last home appointment, which ended in a narrow 3-2 derby reverse to the Baggies on December 14, with two late goals from Charlie Austin earning the visitors the spoils after they trailed 2-1 going into the final quarter.

That in itself provides more than enough evidence to suggest that Leeds should not be looking too far ahead to their first match of the new decade at the leaders in four days’ time.

Cooper said: “We have got to take care of ourselves. We don’t worry about anybody else.

“We look after ourselves, approach each game the same and get our performance levels back to where they should be after Preston.

“I thought in the second half we were the better team. We struggled to get going in the first 20 minutes but apart from that we were the stronger team and creating more chances.”

“If we win against Birmingham, then it is a very good point.”