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Liam Cooper’s wrong: the Millwall match just exposed that the Leeds players weren’t good enough

It wasn’t the coaching or the players’ mentality. The winning streak at the beginning of the season had more to do with the teams that Leeds played

Norwich City v Leeds United - Sky Bet Championship Photo by Stephen Pond/Getty Images

Leeds United’s season had been quite remarkable, given the extremes that were on display. From top of the league in September to being bottom of the form table in March and April, the season has literally been a roller-coaster of emotions and results. From the high of beating Burton Albion on the trot to the gut-wrenching loss at League Two Newport County in the FA Cup, this season has tested the mettle of both fans and players.

There has been turmoil at the club, and this summer is likely to see the exit of a number of players, with even the owner of the club, Andrea Radrizzani, publicly calling out the players on the team for not being up to snuff.

In today’s press conference before Sunday’s match against Queens Park Rangers, Leeds captain Liam Cooper identified the match against Millwall in September, which broke the team’s unbeaten streak and league clean sheet streak as a watershed moment for the club, as one that provided a road map for teams on how to set up against Leeds and get a result. Cooper said:

The Den’s a very hard place to go and I think that was definitely a starting point of what the Championship’s about. Teams, I think, after that game set up a lot differently against us. They did try and bully us and maybe we weren’t used to that. I think we’d definitely be used to that now. We know what the Championship’s about.

The lads who’d come in, it was maybe an eye-opener for them. I think it’ll stand us in good stead for next year.

It is true that the teams set up differently against Leeds after that match, but that is as much of an indictment of the coaching and leadership of the team as much as it is a reflection on how football is played in the Championship. After all, Wolverhampton brought in plenty of players from outside the Championship and they’re going up. Birmingham City brought in a ton of players with “Championship experience” and they’re running the risk of being relegated and on their third manager this season.

Even before the Millwall game, the match against Birmingham City at Elland Road for example, Leeds didn’t put on the greatest performance but were still able to get a result. Of course, hindsight is always 20/20, but the idea that the players, and the team as a whole, never adjusted on how to play after the Millwall match in September beggars belief.

The team also had one of it’s highest profile wins of the season after the Millwall match, the win away at Burnley in the League Cup, where Leeds was able to defeat a Premier League club and end a Cup run of a few old “friends.”

Cooper also spoke about the mentality at the club, saying:

It’s hard to put your finger on it but we’ve got to take a lot of the blame, the players. We set up in the right way, we want to try and play football and we’ve brought a more disciplined approach to our game. You could say it’s luck but in this game you earn your luck and we’re not doing that.

To go one up at the weekend and get beat was so disappointing. We can’t go along like that. We can’t be a soft touch. If you want to do anything in this league, and if you look at the teams who’ve succeeded this year, they’ve all got that winners’ mentality.

Once again, complaining about a lack of a winning mentality is strange. As captain, isn’t it part of his job to instill a “winning mentality” at the club? Cooper was sent off for daft red cards twice this season, is that really the right kind of mentality that he’s helping to install or provide? Is it really “leading by example” to get sent off twice, both for rash, avoidable challenges in matches played against “physical” teams in Cardiff City and Millwall? He may not want the team to be a “soft touch” but if the alternative is to get sent off for dumb tackles, then no thanks.

Cooper’s statement on how the team needs to “adjust” to the Championship is another excuse. It doesn’t matter where the players are from or how they “adjust” to anything. Talent and quality rise to the top in a long, hard Championship season. Simply put, this team didn’t have the talent to challenge for a playoff spot, and saying that the team “failed to adjust” after winning their first seven matches is ludicrous.

When trying to explain why the form of the team seemed to turn after the first seven matches, a better thing to do would be to look at the current league positions of the seven teams Leeds went undefeated against at the beginning of the season: Bolton Wanderers- 23, Preston North End- 7, Fulham- 3, Sunderland- 24, Nottingham Forest- 17, Burton Albion- 22, & Birmingham City- 20. The Preston & Fulham matches, the only teams that have had good seasons, were both 0-0 home draws, and four of the wins came against teams that have either been relegated or are in the running to be relegated. So instead of the “mentality” of the team being soft or that Leeds were “found out” against Millwall, maybe the Millwall match showed something else. Maybe it showed that Leeds just weren’t very good this year.