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Is there a future in the Cooper and Bamba partnership for Leeds?

Leeds United

The defensive duo have failed to gel in recent games, but they were paired together again in Tuesday night's 2-0 defeat to Norwich, so how did they fare?

While Leeds' run of four straight defeats in the Sky Bet Championship has been mainly attributed to yet more off-field distractions, many fans have also noted that the team is not quite as solid at the back as previously. 

Saturday's home defeat to Cardiff saw head coach Neil Redfearn publicly slam his 'experienced' players, in a thinly-veiled criticism of his centre half pairing Sol Bamba and Giuseppe Bellusci, both of whom had an off-day. However, Palermo loanee Bamba and the 25-year-old Italian Bellusci have become widely accepted as the preferred centre half partnership in recent games.

The duo have been the mainstays during Leeds' 2015 resurgence and it has been notable that when Liam Cooper has covered for Bellusci due to suspension and injury, Leeds have lost key games against Brentford (home), Brighton (away), Watford (home) and Wolves (away). Cooper was also at fault for a Blackburn goal in the recent 3-0 defeat, having come on as sub in the closing stages.

Whether you could claim that Cooper's presence - at least when starting as Bamba's centre-half partner - has directly contributed to these defeats is questionable, but certainly while Leeds have improved overall in 2015, Cooper hasn't been the reassuring presence he was in the first half of the campaign, when he was awarded the captain's armband in some games. 

So it came to pass that Redfearn reverted back to the Cooper-Bamba partnership for the visit of Norwich on Tuesday night. Bellusci was named as the fall guy for the Cardiff defeat, although a cynic may suggest that Redfearn was being canny in withdrawing the famously hot-headed Italian from a repeat encounter with Norwich striker Cameron Jerome. The two had a confrontation in the 1-1 draw at Carrow Road in October which resulted in Jerome accusing Bellusci of a racist remark, which an FA panel later found him to be not guilty of.

With Cooper being left-footed and a natural left-sided defender, the partnership with Bamba certainly has more balance and Leeds were resolute in keeping Norwich at bay in a tepid first half at Elland Road. Cooper did concede a penalty - which Graham Dorrans slammed against the crossbar - with a shove in the back of the returning Jonny Howson - but other than that, Norwich failed to make any inroads behind the Leeds defence.

The picture did change in the second half however. After a half-time rocket from manager Alex Neil, Norwich became the dominant force and found attacking threat all over the field. It was noticeable, though, that most of the danger came in wide areas. Nathan Redmond was finding space on the flanks and Norwich's second goal was created when Jerome drifted wide to supply a cross for Dorrans to finish.

Norwich found little space in the middle of the park, and where Watford's Deeney and Vydra recently calved through Leeds' middle ground with ease in a 3-2 win at Elland Road, the Canaries had to find other routes to victory.  

Cooper won a lot in the air and largely dealt with the pace of Jerome and Redmond, Bamba swept up well and kept the drifting Wes Hoolahan at arm's length for much of the night. The centre-half pairing will have benefited from the presence of debutant Granddi Ngoyi in front of the back four, who quietly cut out many of Norwich's attacks, but ultimately, of course, it wasn't enough and Leeds were deservedly beaten 2-0 with Redfearn bemoaning the disparity in quality.

Redfearn's post-match comments suggested he was relatively satisfied with his team's defensive showing and he will once again turn his attention to Leeds' shortcomings at the other end of the pitch before Saturday's encounter with Charlton at the Valley. Certainly, you would say Cooper and Bamba have done enough to warrant another chance to forge an ongoing partnership.

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