Leeds United v Derby County – History may be in Whites’ favour but Liam Cooper staying calm

Yorkshire's play-off history after a team wins away leg (Graphic: Graeme Bandeira)
Yorkshire's play-off history after a team wins away leg (Graphic: Graeme Bandeira)
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FIRST the good news for Leeds United.

Every single one of the 16 teams to have won the first leg away from home in the second-tier play-offs have gone on to reach the final.

Closer to home, seven of the eight Yorkshire clubs who triumphed on the road in the initial leg across all three divisions also progressed to the promotion decider.

With Marcelo Bielsa’s side boasting a one-goal advantage going into tonight’s return leg at home to Derby County the omens are good.

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Just do not expect Liam Cooper, the Leeds captain, to believe the job of booking a place in the May 27 promotion decider is as good as done. Not with 90 minutes – and possibly longer – still to play.

“I do not like to be over confident,” said the former Hull City defender to The Yorkshire Post. “It can affect the way you play and your form.

“We have got to have 18 players bang on it come match day. We are not stupid. We know the prize and we know it is there.

“But, as one of the most senior lads in the team, it is down to me to bear away from that. We are 1-0 up, it is not comfortable at all. The best team will go to the final.”

Asked what captaining Leeds back into the Premier League after a 15-year absence would feel like, Cooper adopted a similarly straight-bat approach.

“I am not getting ahead of myself,” he said. “I will answer that question in a few weeks.”

Cooper may be rightly determined to ignore history, but 32 years of Yorkshire involvement in the play-offs suggests United have one foot at the national stadium.

Only Huddersfield Town of the eight White Rose clubs to win the first leg away from home has then failed to reach the final.

Even then it was another Yorkshire outfit in Barnsley who knocked the Terriers out by triumphing 3-1 at the then Galpharm Stadium to go through 3-2 on aggregate.

Otherwise holding an advantage going into the return leg on home soil has proved decisive –even for those sides who ended up losing in front of their own fans.

Hull City came closest to blowing it, ironically against Derby. Having built up a three-goal lead at Pride Park in 2016, Steve Bruce’s side limped over the line after losing 2-0 at the KCOM.

Others to lose the second leg but still progress are Barnsley in 2000 against Birmingham City and Huddersfield a dozen years later under Simon Grayson at the expense of Milton Keynes Dons.

The Terriers also drew 2-2 at home to Lincoln City in 2004, their passage to the basement division final coming thanks to an earlier 2-1 win at Sincil Bank.

It is a similar tale of dominance for the away victors in the Championship play-offs. All 16 who won the first leg on the road went on to reach the final, albeit with two – Derby in 2007 and Cardiff City three years later – requiring penalties to progress after both lost 3-2 on home soil.

“We were deserving of the victory at Derby,” added Cooper, who played briefly in the top flight early in his career at hometown club Hull. “But I will keep saying it – we must put that behind us now. We have got a massive game. The prize is there and we can all see it. But we have got 90 minutes of football – maybe more – to get through.

“It is so easy to get up for these games. When you start playing as a young lad these are the games you sign up for and we have got a great chance now.

“I had a little taste (of the Premier League) at Hull City, but it has moved on since then. All the boys in the Championship want to play in the Premier League.

“We have got one foot in (the final), but there is plenty of football to be played.”

Leeds’s own record in the play-offs is not great. Sure, the Elland Road club have progressed to the final on three of the four occasions when involved in the end of season deciders.

But United are yet to win promotion via this route after losing to Charlton Athletic in the 1987 final after a replay, Watford in 2006 and Doncaster Rovers two years later.

Derby do boast one triumph, Billy Davies having led the club into the top flight in 2007.

But this is their eighth tilt at the play-offs – and fourth in half a dozen years – so the Rams supporters heading up the M1 tonight are well versed in the crushing sense of disappointment these ties can bring.

Cooper hopes the visiting fans will be experiencing that familiar sinking feeling later tonight and he believes the home following can play a big part.

“The atmosphere was always electric,” he added, “but I would go as far as saying it will probably be the best we have heard it this season.

“We need the fans to be intimidating. It always helps. Even through the bad days they have always been there and, hopefully, we can feed off that energy.”