Friday, 19 March 2010

Super Cooper

In a pivotal week for Hull City, a piece of positive news is that Liam Cooper has signed a new three-year contract with the club. For Cooper himself, an eventful week could end even more positively with a place in Iain Dowie's first starting line up.

Cooper is a teenager and all members of the Tiger Nation should remember that. But there is also no doubt that he fits that adage of an old head on young shoulders. Anyone who witnessed his performance in the last 40 minutes of the game against Arsenal last weekend - and this includes a paying television audience, as well as those present - will have seen a fearless, uncompromising young defender at work.

Of course, as Arsenal took the points and the headlines, and will have been the focus of attention during the game, Cooper's escapades will have been largely secondary to some of the other achievements on the pitch. Arsenal winning in the last minute is a story; Arsenal not winning in the last minute is also a story. For the Tiger Nation gutted by the 93rd minute winner, a small but absolute consolation was Cooper's display.

On as a 55th minute substitute for the injured Kamil Zayatte, Cooper proceeded to throw himself into every challenge as if his young career depended on it. He won balls cleanly, shepherded Arsenal runs away effectively, headed away higher crosses dominantly and then, showcasing probably the hardest part of the defensive art, read the game deliciously. The way he anticipated a Theo Walcott run before Walcott himself and duly nicked the slide rule ball off the England winger's toes was defensive perfection on a par with Andy Dawson's tackle on the same player a season before.

Cooper's inexperience is the one thing that Dowie will consider as a negative prior to picking his defence for Portsmouth tomorrow. It is a fair point, as with Zayatte joining Anthony Gardner on the injured list, our first choice central defensive pairing seems, at face value, to be 20 year old Steven Mouyokolo and 18 year old Cooper. There would be no complaint at beefing up the gravitas in that defence should Dowie choose to do so, though Kevin Kilbane is the only viable option as surely Ibrahima Sonko remains unplayable, even through a new gaffer's eyes.

Mouyokolo is a shoo-in and, in all honesty, Cooper has every right to claim to be likewise. Yet whether he plays or not, a performance like the one against Arsenal and a new three-year deal straight afterwards makes it a good week for the player all round. It would end very nicely for him if Dowie, having watched the game against Arsenal, puts an arm on his shoulder and tells him he's in the team. The attitude he showed against the Gunners is precisely the sort Dowie needs from the players as a whole if we're going to escape the drop.