BY RICHARD CAWLEY
Jake Cooper has set his sights on improving his game this season – and already knows one area where he wants to see his stats boosted.
The big Millwall centre-back, 23, had an excellent first campaign at The Den and emerged as the first-choice partnership with Shaun Hutchinson after Byron Webster was ruled out with cruciate knee ligament damage.
And while Cooper was part of one of the meanest defences in the Championship, it is the other end of the pitch where he feels he can deliver more.
The ex-Reading man bagged four goals in 42 fixtures.
“I see myself as a threat in the other box,” he told the South London Press. “I need to get more than four goals, that definitely is a target.
“Last season was great, I really enjoyed it. I had a run in the team and it built massive confidence in the team we had.
“It was nice to go on that unbeaten run – 17 games. It was just unfortunate that we missed out at the end [on the play-offs]. It was maybe just a few games too many.
“I’d like us to recreate that next season and even better it.
“There are lots of areas I can improve. I want us to keep lots of clean sheets. If I can also add in more goals then we should be in for a good season if I can better my starts from the season before.”
Millwall finished eighth in their first hit at the Championship since League One play-off final success – now comes the challenge of once again finishing ahead of club’s with far greater resources.
“There is no doubt that this season is going to be difficult,” said Cooper.
“But you cannot tell going into it how teams turn up. You don’t know if the fixtures are good or bad.
“We saw a team like Sunderland last year – we looked at that at the start and thought it would be one of our toughest games and you saw what happened to them.
“We can only focus on ourselves and improve in every way we can. We’ll take everything into the first game against Middlesbrough and go from there.
“We’re under no illusions with the squad and budget we have, our main goal is to hit that 50-point target. We want to do that as quickly as possible. There are a lot of big teams in this league who are spending big. We’ll keep our feet on the ground.”
Cooper’s will face fresh competition for a spot from Murray Wallace, signed from Scunthorpe last month.
The pair are both left-footed centre-backs, although Wallace has also featured at full-back for the Iron.
“Pre-season has always been a clean slate for me,” said Cooper. “You have to earn every place again.
“Every player has to prove their worth.
“I’m not sure the gaffer knows his starting 11, I’m sure he won’t until the last week going into the start of the season. For us, it is just about proving we are worthy of that shirt going into August 4 [when they play Middlesbrough.
“Muzza has come in and been brilliant. You can tell he is a top pro and he’s settled really well. It’s great to have him on board, making the squad even stronger.
“That battle for places is really key to Millwall moving forward.”