Millwall v Leeds United – Hostile environment no concern for focused captain Liam Cooper

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A year ago to the day, Leeds United arrived at The Den sitting pretty at the top of the Championship.

The opening seven games had yielded 17 points for Thomas Christiansen’s unbeaten side, who the previous weekend had thumped five goals past Burton Albion.

Leeds lost to Millwall, Aiden O’Brien getting the only goal 17 minutes from time. But the Yorkshire club did return north still leading the way in the second tier.

Everything else, though, had changed with United’s beating amid a typically hostile atmosphere having been so severe – Millwall had 20 attempts on goal to just one from the visitors – that Christiansen’s side were never the same again.

That loss in Bermondsey sparked not only a nine-game run that included seven defeats but also a suspicion the fight had been knocked out of Leeds.

Table-topping United return to Millwall today and Liam Cooper is adamant history will not repeat itself.

“I think the experience last year will pull the lads through,” the 27-year-old, who missed the 2017 defeat to the Lions through injury, told The Yorkshire Post.

“We know what we need to do, we know it is going to be hostile. But it is one of those things where you don’t worry too much about the crowd when you get on the pitch.

“We have all been abused as footballers. These things happen. But I think we are all professional enough to get over it and go and play our game.”

Today’s trip will only be the second time Cooper has played at Millwall. The first came when sporting the colours of Hull City in April, 2012, as Nick Barmby’s men were beaten 2-0.

Leeds United's Liam Cooper.' Picture: Jonathan Gawthorpe'.

Leeds United's Liam Cooper.' Picture: Jonathan Gawthorpe'.

“I played there with Hull and I was also on the bench there with Hull years ago,” added the United captain. “I just see it as any other game, if I am honest.

“It doesn’t really get to me. You go on the pitch and all is forgotten in terms of what is going on around you. It is all about how you perform and that is what we will be doing.”

Harry Kane, then on loan from Tottenham Hotspur, broke the deadlock that spring afternoon.

“Me and another young lad Sonny Bradley played but a long time ago now,” recalls Cooper. “My old man reminded me a couple of years ago that I had played against him (Kane) so he can’t have ripped up trees then.

Obviously, it has its history and all that. But, for me personally, it doesn’t affect me. I will be trying to get that through to the team as well. Just another game of football. Obviously, we know what we need to do.

Liam Cooper

“Obviously, he has progressed now and he is unbelievable. As for this game, we have got to win our personal battles.

“That was one of the big things last year. We went there in form and expected to beat Millwall. But no-one in this league goes to Millwall and has an easy game. That is the way it will be this time.”

Marcelo Bielsa, whose coaching apprenticeship came amid the pressure cooker atmosphere of Argentinian football, remains unmoved by the intimidation that seems certain to lay in wait for his players today. Cooper is of the same mind.

“It is just another game,” added the Scottish international. “Obviously, it has its history and all that. But, for me personally, it doesn’t affect me.

“I will be trying to get that through to the team as well. Just another game of football. Obviously, we know what we need to do.

“We know if we play to the best of our ability, we will give anyone in this league a good game. Hopefully, we can get a positive result.”

DEAD END: 'Dejected Leeds United players at the end of the match at Millwall last year. Picture: James Hardisty.

DEAD END: 'Dejected Leeds United players at the end of the match at Millwall last year. Picture: James Hardisty.

Leeds head to the capital determined to end the locals’ dominance of this fixture in recent years, Millwall having won eight of the nine clashes over the past decade.

Bielsa, however, is having to contend with a depleted squad with Kemar Roofe, Pablo Hernandez, Gaetano Berardi and Patrick Bamford all out injured.

“That is the Championship,” added Cooper, who has linked up well in defence with Berardi this season. “The squad is going to be tested throughout the season, not just now.

“It gives other lads a chance who have been great, the lads outside the squad and the manager is big on the fact that it is not just the XI who is starting, it is the full squad and he needs us all and what a great chance now to come in and get your shirt.”

Tyler Roberts is expected to make his first league start up front in the absence of Roofe and Bamford.

“Everyone who comes into the team knows their job,” added Cooper. “Obviously you are always going to miss the goals but it is a great chance for one of the other lads to come in and stamp their authority and get the shirt.

“Then, when the lads come back, no-one is going to walk straight into the team if the lads are doing well.”