BY RICHARD CAWLEY
Jake Cooper admits he is a “bit gutted” that his unbroken run of Millwall matches has finally come to an end.
The 25-year-old had played every minute in 136 consecutive league matches – working out at 12,240 minutes or 204 hours – before a dislocated shoulder saw him sit out last Wednesday’s 2-1 loss at Blackburn Rovers.
Cooper is sixth in the club’s all-time charts for successive appearances and would have drawn level with Alex Stepney if he had featured in Lancashire.
The former Reading centre-back will need surgery on his shoulder but was back in Gary Rowett’s starting line-up at the weekend for the 1-0 defeat to Derby.
“It’s never nice to miss a game and I was obviously a bit gutted,” said Cooper. “I’ve been quite lucky up until the shoulder, I’d only had a couple of illnesses and things like that.
“If I’d managed to go three full seasons playing every match that would have been cool.
“But it doesn’t matter anymore. You don’t define success on how many games you have played in a row. I feel a bit unfortunate though, if the games had been Saturday to Saturday then I’d have been okay.
“I feel like I could’ve played at Blackburn but I had to listen to the specialist, because they have that title for a reason.
“Where it was still feeling quite painful I didn’t want to go out there, not be able to play my best and let the boys down by doing that.”
The hope from a Lions’ perspective is that Cooper can manage the problem until the end of the season and then have an op.
“I’ve done a fair bit of reading up on it – my shoulder popped out the back of the socket and there isn’t a person under 60 that I’ve read about who hasn’t had surgery,” said the defender.
“We’ve talked about me possibly getting through the whole season and if that happens I can get it scanned again and re-assess to see what the best course of action is.”
Cooper suffered the dislocation when he fell awkwardly attacking a corner in the 0-0 draw at Birmingham City.
Medical staff were able to pop the shoulder joint back in and he finished the match.
“It’s one of the worst pains I’ve had – the lads will probably tell you I was making quite a bit of noise on the floor,” said Cooper. “I didn’t know it had popped out at the time, I just felt an awful pain.
“Fortunately Paul [Tanner, physiotherapist] was brilliant and put it straight back in. There was instant pain relief and it faded away to an ache.”
Cooper’s run in the Millwall side started after he had served a suspension at Burton Albion in November 2017.
But largely he has ignored his achievement. He recently passed Tony Warner and Bryan Brown for consecutive games.
“It wasn’t really anything I was aware of or was on my mind until I got to 100,” said Cooper.
“It came really from when I signed a new contract under Neil Harris a couple of years ago and he said: ‘Play all 46 games and see how much you improve’. It just went from there.
“I love being out there. I spent a lot of time on the bench at Reading. I was really excited to be back out there against Derby – I don’t ever take it for granted.”
Cooper says there were no mental hang-ups about committing to challenges last weekend.
“I didn’t think about it for a second of the game,” he responded. “Derby chipped the ball up straight from the kick off – I went up and won the ball with my right arm up. It was all good.
“Even in training on Friday, I hadn’t trained before that but I’d been on to the gaffer that I was ready to play.
“We had a small game and he put me up against Matt Smith and told Bart [Bialkowski] to kick it up to me, to test me out.
“That was his way of making sure I was ready to go for Saturday.”
Millwall are winless in nine matches after Tuesday’s 1-1 draw with QPR – only three of those losses.
With only one league victory at The Den this season, 2-0 over Luton on October 20, maybe successive away trips to Middlesbrough and Bristol City are just what the doctor ordered.
“It’s a strange one,” said Cooper. “Because the games have been so close together it almost doesn’t feel like it has been that long since the win at Preston, but it has been a good amount of games.
“It is something that we’re working to put right – we know the issues and how we can improve.
“Individually we need to be better, that’s the fact of it. We need to start putting performances together.
“We can’t let goals in like we have and we have got to score more goals. We all have to show more quality.”
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