BY RICHARD CAWLEY
Jake Cooper has had his say on his controversial goal in Millwall’s FA Cup slaying of Everton.
The big centre-back, who turns 24 on Sunday, has not had a whole lot of luck in the competition before last weekend.
Cooper was sent off in Reading’s FA Cup quarter-final defeat to Crystal Palace in March 2016 – conceding a penalty which was dispatched by Fraizer Campbell.
Another dismissal followed, again for two bookable offences, in Millwall’s 1-0 victory over then Premier League champions Leicester just under a year later. He then started the 6-0 drubbing at Tottenham as the Lions’ adventure came to a shuddering end.
But it was all smiles for Cooper in Saturday’s 3-2 win over against the Toffees. Replays showed his goal – to make it 2-2 – had come off his arm.
Yet the Berkshire-born powerhouse reckons there was not a whole lot he could do about it after Murray Wallace’s shot nicked off Jordan Pickford’s left leg.
Cooper said: “You can slow the tape down as much as you want and look at pictures from behind the goal – and there’s no doubt about it, it hits me on the arm.
“But if you watched that at full speed and ask anyone if my arm is in an unnatural position, or I’ve deliberately scored with my arm, then if they said yes I think they’d be lying. If they see that as handball, I remember there being a cross that I think hits Seamus Coleman from about a yard on his arm. Everyone was saying that wasn’t a penalty.
“It happens a lot in games. That’s not any difference to what happened to me. It’s come off Pickford at top speed, no more than two or three yards away. I was in the right place at the right time.
“I reacted and anticipated when the ball bounced and fortunately it came off Pickford and into my body.
“I knew it had hit my arm and that there might be some controversy about it, especially with so many cameras around the place.
“I thought it would be harsh for them to take it away from me. I didn’t want to enjoy my celebration too much – in case it was taken away. I did hold back a bit, which I’m a little gutted about now because I could’ve really enjoyed that moment.”
To VAR or not to VAR, that is the question. Or at least Everton boss Marco Silva was griping about the way the video review system has not been completely embraced for all ties.
Cooper is a fan of the technology. He said: “It needs some work on it. But it certainly helps me with attacking set-plays, with players trying to foul me. That happens a lot. I’m for it, in that sense.
“If there had been VAR then they’d have possibly disallowed the goal, because of the speed they slow it down to. But you’d have to give every penalty that hit a defender on the arm from a short distance, because it’s no difference.”
Cooper has been directly involved in nine goals – three goals and six assists – in 17 home games for Millwall this season.
It was his initial header which was followed up by Lee Gregory for the Lions’ to make it 1-1 on Saturday.
“I was listening to talkSPORT on Tuesday morning and we’re the second highest scoring set-piece team in the country. That helps me – because we’re getting the deliveries.
“I’m helping contribute to the goals, which is great. I try and contribute every time I go up there. I want to keep pushing that number up and getting some good tallies.
“We just played to our strengths [against Everton]. It’s what good teams do.
“Their downfall was giving us the chance to use our strengths. They may be disappointed with some of the free-kicks they gave away.
“We had to make an impact from them, knowing we wouldn’t have so much possession of the ball. We had to shut up shop to stop them running away with the game.
“We were even disappointed with the goals we conceded, when you look at how we played. We really limited them. It’s just little errors and mis-shapes which led to their goals. We’re disappointed they even scored one goal against us.”
Cooper says that match is the highlight of his 90 games for the SE16 outfit.
“That is definitely at the top of the list – the way it ended like that,” he said. “Unfortunately I wasn’t on the pitch at the end when we beat Leicester a couple of years ago. To see it out and get the winner in the last-minute, you can’t beat that.
“The first couple of years that I played in the FA Cup weren’t really enjoyable – getting sent off in two big matches. It wasn’t my plan at all.
“I’ve learned a lot from some of the sending offs, fortunately they have come in the cup and not affected my league campaign too much.
“Another quarter-final will be good for my record.”
“We’ll go there full of confidence but we know how tough it is going to be.
“We’ve had some lads on loan there and big T [Tom Elliott] played there before. We’ll have some good insight and be fully-prepared for it.”