Jake Cooper on doing the fundamentals well keeps you in the good books of Millwall head coach Neil Harris


Jake Cooper has talked about doing the basics well if you want to avoid an earbashing from Millwall head coach Neil Harris.

The centre-back has played 338 matches for the Lions since arriving from Reading in 2017 with a fair chunk of those appearances coming under Harris in his previous spell in charge.

Cooper and the Den legend, who has won promotion both as a player and as a boss at the South London club, have been reunited since Harris replaced Joe Edwards in late February.

The big defender is as well-placed as any of the current squad that played in the past for the Lions chief to discuss if he has changed in his approach.

“It’s a bit different for me now,” said Cooper, who sat down with the South London Press at the club’s Calmont Road training ground earlier this week.

“I’m in more of a senior role than when he was manager before. I was looking to learn from the more experienced players – but now he probably looks to me as a senior character to drive the lads.

“I know exactly what he wants out of the team and the squad.

“In terms of him, from what I have seen so far, he seems similar. He is maybe a little more chilled out – but I know behind the scenes his mind will be working ruthlessly on the next opposition. How we can play and how we can improve.

“I know how much football he watches throughout the day.

“We haven’t seen him blow his lid yet. He has been happy. There were a couple of bits he wasn’t pleased with in the Leeds game at half-time but nothing serious, compared to what we’ve seen before. I’m sure it will happen at some point.”

One reason for a lack of stress has been Millwall’s results since Harris came back.

The 2-0 loss at Leeds United before the international break was a first reverse for the Lions’ all-time record goalscorer, with 10 points collected out of a possible 12 prior to the trip to Elland Road.

“Him and Livers (David Livermore, assistant head coach) have both got that fear factor about them,” said Cooper, who has captained the team in the absence of Shaun Hutchinson. “If you disappoint them you know you could be in for an earful.

“They use it at the right times – it is honest stuff with the gaffer.

“If we are not winning our individual duels or battles, like we didn’t at Leeds a few times, that is the sort of things that is going to disappoint him – not so much if you cross the ball and it hits row Z or try something technical that doesn’t come off. It is about doing the fundamentals right under him.

“If you let him down on that side it is when you will see him get disappointed and angry.

“I’ve had it a couple of times. I got sent off against Leicester in the FA Cup – he gave it to me a bit then. Or silly things in training when you are messing about a little bit, which isn’t so much nowadays.

Norwich City’s Josh Sargent (right) and Millwall’s Jake Cooper during the Sky Bet Championship match at Carrow Road, Norwich. Picture date: Sunday August 20, 2023.

“He got a bit annoyed with me in the Birmingham game the other week – for doing something silly on the ball. But if you acknowledge it straight away then he is fine. You take it on the chin.

“He’s good. You need that. You can hear everything he says on the touchline – or you can in my position anyway in the first half at The Den. You know when he is a bit upset. It’s nice to have that in your ear and in your mind, that you don’t want to let down the manager.”

Millwall turned to Harris after a worrying winless spell under Edwards had dragged them right into the relegation battle.

Now they are four points clear of trouble and with a chance to open up more daylight over the Easter weekend – first at home to West Brom today and then at rock bottom Rotherham on Monday.

“Joe was a really good coach and taught us loads of stuff on the pitch,” said Cooper. “We felt like we almost let him down in certain aspects. We were struggling, probably mentally more than anything.

“Neil knows the football club better than anybody in the world. He went straight in and stamped his authority – right from the very top.

“Everyone is familiar with him and his voice – his role of leadership. We needed someone like that. Chopper has taken the responsibility on his shoulders.

“We needed to grind out some results and we were fortunate enough to do that. We know there are eight tough games coming that we are going to need to keep battling through like that.

“It’s a strange one this year with so many teams being involved (fighting to stay up). The Championship is always crazy.

“The Easter weekend we play Friday and Monday and I’m sure the table is going to do somersaults again. It’s about managing ourselves – you can’t get too bogged down about what other teams are doing. You have got to get results in your own games. They key thing for us was picking up the home form – Neil has come in and we’ve had back-to-back home wins.

“We are looking to do that again on Friday and that will keep us moving away from trouble.”

Cooper is on nine bookings after his yellow card at Leeds and had avoided a caution for 13 matches – with the cut-off for a two-game ban for 10 now gone.

“I managed it well because I got my eighth in the Norwich game (on December 29) and had to stay clear,” said Cooper. “There were things I regret. In the Coventry game I could’ve brought down (Callum) O’Hare before their second goal.

“Things like that were in the back of my mind and missing two games at that stage of the season, in the position that we were, I thought I had to be really careful.

“I probably would’ve brought O’Hare straight down if I was on six or seven yellow cards. It is kind of the price you pay.

“You have to be mindful but, at the same time, play your game as normally as you can.”


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