JAKE Cooper has seen opponents “crumble” at The Den this season – and says boss Neil Harris deserves credit for assembling a group of players who know what it means to represent the club.
Cooper, 22, arrived from Reading in the summer after a loan spell last season, and has nailed down a first-team place, forming a formidable partnership in the centre of defence with Shaun Hutchinson.
And he feels Lions fans can identify with their players, something which has made The Den a formidable place for away teams this season, with table-topping Wolves next to visit on Boxing Day.
“We really feel at home there, with the crowd and the atmosphere they create,” Cooper said. “You can tell that other teams don’t enjoy it, their players start to crumble and we get a sense of that. We get a boost off making it difficult for other teams.
“From the time I came into the club the manager made it clear what it means to play for Millwall, what he wants his players to be like. We try to play for him and play for the club and do our best to put in good performances.
“As soon as you drive into The Den and under that bridge, you know you’re in for a good day’s work. Other teams come in knowing it’s going to be a hard place to play. The gaffer has done very well putting this team together. We really feel like a team, we’ve bonded really well and have had some great times on and off the pitch.
“I wanted to come here and get good Championship experience. This was a great club to come to, and being here last year I knew what it was all about. The gaffer did really well in the summer with his signings, we’ve all gelled properly. I’m enjoying playing all the time and getting good results.”
Middlesbrough were the sixth team to fall to a league defeat in south Bermondsey this campaign, but Cooper felt Millwall didn’t get enough get enough credit from Boro boss Garry Monk when he spoke after the game.
“I read them saying how they can’t be conceding silly goals, but our two goals were created really well,” Cooper said. “And we should have had plenty more from their mistakes. Our two goals we created with great bits of play, Tunners [Ryan Tunnicliffe] and Jed [Wallace] for the first goal.
“A lot of our game is based around our shape and how we defend, and we have been really good at stopping goals, which has helped us gain points. We build from that and try to counter-attack well. We do use the ball to the best of our ability and we have our strengths as a team. So why not play to those strengths?
“We were disappointed not to get a clean sheet. We enjoy playing against top strikers, we’ve had it against Aston Villa and Sheffield United and Saturday was just another one of those occasions.
“From the start we felt in control, they had a bit of possession but we felt we were easing into the game, perhaps a bit slower than we normally do at The Den. But it’s no harm to do that sometimes, especially against the top teams, you need to assess who you’re playing against.
“It took a couple of tackles and the ref lost his way a little bit, if you can say that, and we capitalised on that.
“When big teams come to The Den we put in big performances. We really enjoy playing there and we’ve just got to turn around our away form and get more results on the road. We’ll be looking to do that this Saturday at Derby.”