Joel Cooper’s fox-in-the-box Linfield goal

Linfield's Joel Cooper finished with two goals against Ballymena United on Saturday. Pic by Pacemaker.
Linfield's Joel Cooper finished with two goals against Ballymena United on Saturday. Pic by Pacemaker.

Joel Cooper is willing to turn the beautiful game ugly in a bid to improve Linfield’s hunt for honours.

The talented playmaker has built his senior Irish League career in the blue of Glenavon and Linfield as a creative outlet often offering wing wizardy.

On Saturday he served up an example of his ability as Linfield’s man in the middle, picking up pockets of space to unsettle the Ballymena defence.

He added an end product to that energy with two goals - the first a drive from outside the area, the second off close-range control.

The opening effort added to the run of spectacular strikes on his highlights reel but Cooper took greater satsifaction from the second as a reward as the fox in the box - effective more than eye-catching.

“I’m trying more often to get towards the middle of the box if the ball drops or a defender makes a mistake,” said Cooper. “I think I received the ball around the penalty spot and you see Andy Waterworth has been scoring goals for years from that position so it’s something I’m trying to add to my game.

“For the first goal I cut in and looked for a pass first to keep possession then managed to square the defender up and took it from there, it was instinctive.

“I was more pleased with the second goal as Kirk Millar’s delivery was brilliant and I need to get into the box more often.

“Kirk’s delivery is very good and he said to me at half-time he had a look and could see I wasn’t getting to the front so he cut it back.

“I don’t think the defender could see me coming in and Kirk picked me out so it was nice to get on the end of it.

“Kirk puts it into good areas and has been doing it for a long time, so I don’t expect anything else from him off set-pieces or all-round.

“If in the box you’ve a good chance of scoring with Kirk on the ball and his assists record speaks for itself.

“I got off to a slow start this season but was frustrated and doing extra work so now it’s four goals in four games.

“But that’s over now and it’s about looking to the next match and keeping the momentum going forward.”

Cooper’s search for sustained gains means a position on the teamsheet is more important than his starting position on the pitch.

“As long as we get the win, I’m happy to play anywhere,” he said. “When out left I’m more restricted and I like it more centrally, picking up areas and getting on the ball.

“But I was brought up as an out-and-out winger staying on the touchline so am happy to play on the left obviously.

“Either position suits me but more centrally it increases my chances of making things happen.

“We have that freedom in today’s formation, with me and Bastien (Hery) moving up and going to look for the ball.

“I know it depends on conditions as on a small pitch we need the width.

LINFIELD: Ferguson, Stafford, Callacher, Cooper (Stewart, 67), Millar, Lavery (Waterworth, 77), Clarke, Fallon, Hery (Allen, 87), Mulgrew, McGivern.

Subs: Deane, Larkin, Shevlin, Hume.

BALLYMENA UNITED: Glendinning, Addis, Whiteside (An.Burns, 46), Harpur, McCullough, K.Kane (Friel, 46), McGrory, Winchester, Ervin, Millar, Kelly.

Subs: Williamson, Mayse, McGinty, Carville, Lavery.

Referee: Jamie Robinson.