JAKE Cooper has sympathy for injured Byron Webster – but the former Reading centre-back is determined to grab his first-team chance in the defender’s absence.
Webster is out for the season with cruciate ligament damage, with Neil Harris likely to revert to the same centre-back pairing that was his first choice at the start of the season.
Cooper was in the centre of defence alongside Shaun Hutchinson against Nottingham Forest on the opening day of the Championship campaign, but hasn’t started a league game since after picking up an injury against Stevenage in the second fixture of the season and then having to sit on the bench as Webster produced his best form in a Millwall shirt.
Cooper admitted it’s not the ideal way to regain a place in the side but recognises it’s a chance to secure regular football for the remainder of the season.
“It was a shock for the group,” Cooper said on hearing the extent of Webster’s injury. “He’s a great guy and we’re all disappointed. He’s there when any of the players need him. He’s still our friend and he’s still around the place, he’ll be there supporting us. He’ll be missed in the group and we hope his recovery goes as well as possible.
“Hopefully it gives me more of a chance to play. You wouldn’t wish injury on anyone but you have to try to take your chances when you get them.
“We’re still friends. We’re competing amongst ourselves and it’s down to the manager who he picks. We’ve all been very competitive, there have been changes this season from the last one.
“The competition makes us want to play better, compete more for each other’s places. I knew I’d always get a chance. I got it at the start of the season but picked up a knock which put me back a little bit.
“I was disappointed with that and did everything to be fit for the next game. But the boys all did well and when the team changes once sometimes it might not change again for a little bit.
“I’m quite chilled, I just watch the boys and try to take it all in. I’ve come on and helped them a few times. I enjoy watching the games.
“We’re a very tight unit and when the team does need to be changed we all know what we’re doing, what our jobs are.
“Hopefully I’ll get the chance and take it. There’s no pressure, I came here to play games. We know how we play and exactly what we do when we are called upon.”
Millwall have surprised some people with their start to the season, and their relegation odds have lengthened after some impressive results against some of the league’s big hitters.
Cooper, though, isn’t surprised by how competently they have performed, even if he feels they could have more points on board.
He said: “We do have high expectations, we go into every game with high hopes. I don’t think our overall expectations have changed because we always thought we could do well this season.
“There have been performances when we thought we should have got more from the game and it’s just about doing enough to get the results.
“Wolves and a poor performance against Barnsley are really the only games we feel we didn’t deserve to get anything from. It’s a testament to how we’ve done this season.
“We’ve done well against the top teams like Leeds. It’s great when the atmosphere at The Den is rocking for games like that, there’s such a good vibe around the place and the players really respond to that. It really boosts our performances and the results at home reflect that in the last couple of seasons.”
Most of the Millwall squad had the chance to recharge their batteries over the international break, and have five games between now and the next one – the World Cup qualifying play-offs which four Lions players will likely be involved in – to fight for crucial league points.
“We spent some time on the training pitch and worked on some things as a team,” Cooper said. “We get some time to spend with our families as well which is nice. It’s good to have a break from games, it’s been an intense period for some of the lads.
“It’s important to regroup and get ready to go on Saturday.
“We had a good period between the two previous international breaks and that’s something we want to repeat going into these games.”
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