WOUNDED captain Liam Cooper has issued a defiant message from the Leeds United dressing room, insisting his promotion-chasing Whites have enough in the locker to silence any doubters who think they cannot book their ticket to the Premier League.
The defender is also refuting any suggestions that United are suffering from a lack of ruthlessness, saying of the continued theme of squandered goalscoring chances: “In training the boys put them in all the time.”
Cooper and Leeds kicked-off Tuesday night’s Championship clash and game in hand at Queens Park Rangers knowing victory would have sent them back to the top of the division.
Instead, a 1-0 defeat against a Rangers outfit that had lost their last seven league games has left Leeds down in third, out of the automatic promotion places on goal difference behind second-placed Sheffield United, with a further two points to leaders Norwich City.
The defeat has further heightened the importance of tomorrow night’s Elland Road showdown with fourth-placed West Brom who remain only four points behind Leeds and on the same amount of games.
Having won seven games in succession between November and December, Leeds have now savoured victory in just four of their last 10 league games – five of which have ended in defeat.
Tuesday night’s setback prompted questions to Whites head coach Marcelo Bielsa as to whether his men were running out of steam with two months of the season left.
Bielsa strongly refuted such interrogation, insisting queries about whether his players might be running out of energy had “no basis.”
“What our team has shown in every game is that we have an excess of energy,” said the Whites head coach.
Indeed, the statistics prove that United’s problems are in other areas that Bielsa has already eluded to.
We have got enough in the dressing room to get us over the line.Liam Cooper
Leeds left Loftus Road without a single point or single goal despite having 64 per cent of possession and 11 shots on goal with just four on target as once again chances to find the net went begging.
Bielsa has already bemoaned the fact that United are needing around five goalscoring chances to score once – statistics that the Argentinian says are worse than the teams at the bottom of the league.
Leeds remain third and only two points off top spot but Cooper admitted Tuesday’s defeat was a huge opportunity squandered.
However, the Whites captain says United’s players remain in no doubt that they have the required qualities needed to see the job through and guide Leeds to a return to the Premier League in their centenary year.
“We are confident in our own ability and our team spirit and we know we have got enough in that dressing room to get us over the line,” said Cooper.
“We have just got to keep working hard, that’s been the moral all season and we will keep doing that.”
Asked if it was simply a case of a lack of ruthlessness that was costing United dear, Cooper said: “Not really because in training the boys put them in all the time. We have created some chances again and on another day they go in and it’s a different story. It’s just one of those things, we have got to work hard on the training ground and put it right.”
The dejection felt following Tuesday’s setback was plain to see with United’s players clearly disconsolate after failing to find any sort of breakthrough.
Cooper also left with a heavy cut above his eye having clashed heads with Hoops captain Toni Leistner towards the end of the first half. With blood pouring down his face, the centre-back needed immediate treatment and United had to play the final 10 minutes of the first half with 10 men as the defender had stitches. Leeds were in the ascendancy at the time and Cooper admitted the injury came at the worst possible moment.
“By all accounts, with the intensity of our game we were getting on top,” said Cooper.
“We were growing into the game and it’s just one of those things. It happens.”
On the pitch, the opportunity to do just that now presents itself just 72 hours after the Rangers defeat and Cooper says his men will be striving for the perfect response against West Brom.
Asked if it was important to look at the bigger picture of Leeds still only being two points off the pace, Cooper admitted: “It was a real chance for us and we have let ourselves down.
“It’s a very disappointed dressing room but we have got to dust ourselves down and go again, that’s all we can do. It’s back to the drawing board and we will be working hard again for a big game on Friday. It’s a massive game.”