Leeds go top but fear for Cooper after knee injury
A potentially long-term injury to captain Liam Cooper threatened to overshadow Leeds United’s latest return to the summit of the Championship.
Cooper limped off after damaging a knee midway through the first half of a dour Yorkshire derby that failed to live up to its pre-match billing and was settled by an error from Sheffield United goalkeeper Dean Henderson.
Substitute Aapo Halme, the towering Finland Under-21 international who looks a real prospect, stood in manfully in a sterling rearguard as the visitors won at Bramall Lane for the first time in 26 years.
Leeds’ bid to end a 15-year top flight exile has been blighted by a series of injuries to influential players this season, and head coach Marcelo Bielsa admitted he feared that Cooper had joined the casualty list. The Argentine said: “It’s an injury to the meniscus and it could be significant, but I need to wait to hear from the medical team before knowing the full extent.”
Cooper is due for scans early next week to assess the damage sustained in what appeared to be an innocuous fall.
“For me, this win against a serious opponent is a very important moment in the season,” added Bielsa, whose side have won their past three games. “We had to defend for long spells, and to be honest a draw wouldn’t have been an unfair outcome, but it’s massive credit to the players for the way they saw out the game and the victory.”
As a stalemate looked inevitable, the winner arrived with eight minutes remaining, the previously impeccable Henderson failing to control an overhit back-pass from John Egan, which let substitute Jack Clarke pull the ball back for Pablo Hernandez to send the ball into an empty net, the Spaniard’s fifth goal in the last six away games.
The hosts’ missed opportunities proved to be costly. David McGoldrick was the chief culprit, firing over when keeper Bailey Peacock-Farrell spilt a first-half cross. McGoldrick’s strike partner Billy Sharp, who had found the net six times in four games against his former employers, sent a far-post diving header into the turf and over as half time approached.
“It’s a difficult result to take,” Chris Wilder, the Sheffield United manager, admitted. Substitute Conor Washington’s overhead kick in stoppage time bounced back off the crossbar as the Blades suffered a home defeat for the first time since the opening day of the campaign.
Wilder added: “I thought that we played extremely well and dominated a very good side for long spells. We missed a couple of big chances and unfortunately the game was decided by an error and we have to take it on the chin and move on quickly.”