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Hartlepool United 0 Fleetwood Town 1
ON August 24, 1986 at the Victoria Ground, Colin Cooper was part of a whole new era for Middlesbrough Football Club as they borrowed Pools’ home to play their first game of the season.
Some 27 years later and the young centre-half led his Pools side out at Victoria Park for his second home game in charge.
There was, despite the galling result, enough on display to suggest that Saturday marked a turning point for Pools and their new manager. A new era? Perhaps Pools are on the brink of one.
With two debutants among five new faces Cooper put into his side, Pools again did enough to win the game, certainly more than enough not to lose it.
However, they did lose and again failed to score – and there the problems and big issue lies.
For all their early promise, and the opening was a swift and vibrant as anything Pools have served up at home in a while, the game followed an all-too-familiar pattern of conceding a goal and being left chasing the game.
Since the start of 2011, Pools have played 66 games at Victoria Park; they have failed to score in 33 of them.
And 15 of those games have been lost 1-0.
Cooper changed formation for this one, three in midfield, three in attack. There was a new look to the side in personnel and formation.
His two latest signings, Matty Dolan and Michael Duckworth showed plenty to suggest they will only add to Cooper’s options.
Pools have long courted Dolan and the Hartlepool-born midfielder, on loan from Middlesbrough, was full of running and composure.
At right-back, Duckworth arrived on trial from Bradford Park Avenue. He constantly looked to use the ball positively, helped out in attack and read the game well. For his first start as a professional footballer, the former York City trainee can be more than satisfied.
Cooper has his pawns in place, now he needs the magic solution. He will review and review again and again the DVD of the game – “to the nth degree” – to see what ideas come to mind to get off the mark.
“The plaudits are nice, but at some point they have to turn into goals and results,’’ he admitted. “As I say, even though we are only into the season for a month, the frustration is building. Is it the gamble, the anticipation, the personnel? If it is the personnel then I have to do something about it, but I don’t think it is.
“They are there, maybe we are trying for the perfect goal and not gambling in the box enough. Big Stevie does what he does and he’s had one saved and one cleared off the line, when that ball comes in the box he is making contact with it. Everyone else has to gamble off that and anticipate it. In the first half in particular I didn’t think there was enough gambling and that’s why we had four centre forwards on the pitch at the end.
“Have a gamble, he’s winning headers and flick and anticipate where it might land. Is it the run, the movement and the anticipation and then we might find the answer.’’
Pools put two ideal balls into the area for Howard – last time they did that he scored twice at Sheffield United last season.
This time his first header beat keeper Scott Davies, but defender Mark Roberts cleared, his second, from a sweet Jack Baldwin cross, was heading back across goal only for Davies to spring to his left to push it out.
The only goal was just the sort Pools don’t score. A long shot went through Christian Burgess’ legs to make it harder for Scott Flinders to save and he bounced it up, but Jeff Hughes was there to knock in.
Cooper added: “The one incident when we aren’t in a good shape, they get a counter attack, have a scruffy shot, Scott has to save it and Jeff Hughes bundles it in from six yards. It gives them something to hang onto and something they did.
“I’d like to think people can see what we are trying to do, it’s not quite there, and we have to keep working at that ingredient – the right movement, timing, gamble, run or what it is. It’s my and Craig’s job to find it – that’s what I’ll be doing over the next few days.
“I’ll be into the DVD at the nth degree to see why it’s not falling for us and we have to find why. Delivery, cross, pass? There’s a reason why.’’
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