Leeds United v Sheffield Wednesday: Revenge is not the incentive for Leeds new faces

Leeds's Liam Cooper.
Leeds's Liam Cooper.
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“A PUBLIC humiliation,” was how a shell-shocked Brian McDermott described the last derby meeting between Leeds United and Sheffield Wednesday, while the 3,500 fans housed in the upper tier of the Leppings Lane end that January afternoon opted for more choice language to register their disgust.

Regardless, however, of the words used to describe that 6-0 thrashing suffered by Leeds at Hillsborough, the manner of the most comprehensive victory in the history of clashes between these two great Yorkshire rivals is one that neither set of supporters is likely to ever forget.

The same goes for the players involved, with defender Joe Mattock having already admitted in The Yorkshire Post earlier this week that the Owls are expecting a “backlash” from a United side intent on making up for what happened last time out.

Common sense dictates, of course, that Leeds will be a sterner opponent than on the second Saturday of the year. Let’s face it, they could not be anything else.

But United will also be much changed with just Jason Pearce, Rodolph Austin and Alex Mowatt of that starting XI still at the club. Matt Smith, who was dismissed just 60 seconds into the second half after being brought off the bench during the interval, has also left for pastures new.

This rapid turnover of personnel means most of the team sent out by Darko Milanic, the club’s second appointment as head coach since McDermott’s services were dispensed with in the summer, will have no personal memory of what was a dark, dark day for United. For Liam Cooper, one of those new faces, this can only be a good thing.

“The last game has no bearing at all,” said the 23-year-old, who signed in a £600,000 deal from Chesterfield just a few days into the season. “Put it this way, the lads have never once mentioned what happened last season.

“I do know about the score because I saw it on the television. But there aren’t too many left from that day and we just have not mentioned it as a team.

“All the lads have spoken about is the atmosphere. We all know what it is like when Elland Road is rocking. I have never played in front of a crowd as big as this so that is what we are all looking forward to.”

Just two points and three places separate Wednesday and Leeds in the Championship table. In reality, though, the two clubs have had contrasting campaigns with the Owls’ performances having been on much more of an even keel than the highs and lows that have characterised United’s displays.

Those ups for Leeds include three-goal victories over Huddersfield Town and Bournemouth, while the less said about the 2-0 reverses to Millwall, Brighton and Brentford the better.

On Wednesday night, United were also far from at their attacking best in drawing 0-0 at home to Reading. On the plus side, though, Milanic’s men were solid at the back and Cooper, drafted into the back four in the unfamiliar position of left-back against the Royals, believes that gives Leeds something to build on.

He said: “We always say, ‘If we can’t win a game, then make sure we don’t lose’. We had to shut up shop at times to get a point but you have to do that in games from time to time.

“In the end, we came away with a point. There were some times when we were under pressure but I thought we also managed to counter-attack even when they had the better of things. We could have scored and they could have scored.

“So, in the end, I would say it was a fair point. There were positives to take out of Reading. I thought we were solid and we played how the manager wants us to, passing the ball around. I thought we were the better team for long periods in the first half.

“Maybe we got tired as the game got stretched after half-time. But I thought we dug in and got a good point.”

As for his own performance against Nick Blackman, the tricky former Sheffield United man, Cooper added: “I haven’t played too often in that position. But, in a sense, it is natural to me because I am left-footed.

“I played there a few times at Chesterfield last season but, obviously, I am in a bigger and better league now. You come up against top, top wingers.

“He (Blackman) is a good player, sharp and quick. It was a bit hard with the positioning and the physical side. But that comes with playing games as match sharpness helps a lot. Hopefully, I can keep going in that position.”

Milanic will be the man to decide that last point, with the Slovenian having to weigh up whether Leeds having 24 hours less to prepare for today’s game than the Owls due to playing a night later will mean changes have to be made.

Should Cooper retain his place ahead of Stephen Warnock, it will only his fourth start in the Championship since moving up the M1 in mid-August. Despite that, the former Hull City trainee insists he is enjoying life in West Yorkshire.

“It has been good,” said the defender. “I never expected to walk straight into a great time like this and that is exactly how it has been.

“Training has been good. We have done a lot of short, sharp passing sessions lately. We were also meant to train on the morning (of the Reading match) but because of the fire in Leeds (that destroyed the former Majestyk nightclub in the city centre), we were not able to train.

“But it has been a good few days and now we focus on a massive derby against Sheffield Wednesday.”