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Cooper sees the progess in his squad
FOR Hartlepool United under Colin Cooper it’s been small steps at a time. Now he feels he is seeing a different side to his players, and a far more encouraging one at that.
While their latest move forward wasn’t exactly a big leap in terms of results, looking at the bigger picture and in terms of ticking off the boxes Cooper had previously spoke about, it was another one done.
“It’s building blocks and we try and do the things we have been doing and hope the players continue to believe,’’ he said after the first win of the season the previous week.
“We’ve had a first win, we’ve had two draws away from home, so let’s go to Bristol and get something.’’
Get a point they did, and they were damn close to getting three of them.
Leading 2-1 throughout the second half, they looked likely to see the game out until they were finally breached in the 88th minute. Following a rather drab 0-0 draw at York and a resolute 0-0 draw at Torquay, Pools got their first away goals of the season.
Luke James was a constant menace – a thorn in the defender’s side said Cooper – and he scored two, could have had three and gave the sort of display akin to the one he managed at Tranmere last season. His front pairing with Andy Monkhouse is working and the duo have a decent understanding.
Behind them the midfield, while not dominant, were disciplined in what they did and the back four, disappointingly breached twice, had plenty to do. But it’s the character of his players Cooper is seeing develop too. He has said from day one that the players were buying into his ideals and now it is being displayed in performances, actions and results.
“In my opinion it’s a different group of players to what we had six weeks ago so as a manager that’s pleasing,’’ he reflected. “They are not happy now to go back with just a point. “Can we all get better and improve? Yes we still can. “The work we are trying to do is coming through and we are getting rid of the habit of losing football matches which is a hard one to shake off.
“The one thing we try and do it give ourselves a foothold in games, as we all believe we have players in there who can create chances . “We are doing that in every game and now we are starting to stick them away. So from being team that has been so disappointed at losing matches, hopefully we get into a habit of not losing matches.
“We’ve attacked well and been a threat in every game – Torquay aside maybe – and we created here again without our creative players having a really massive impact on the game. “But we still created chances to win and to do that, put our bodies on the line and have a right go is pleasing.’’ It’s usually the case that when they concede, confidence drains and it’s proved very hard for them to get back into the game.
This time it took them little over 60 seconds to level it up. After Matt Harrold turned in the area and swept a low shot in, Pools reacted instantly. From the kick-off, Neil Austin knocked it forward, Monkhouse headed on and James was onto it, pushed to his right and picked his spot low from 22 yards. Pools were already on top before the goals, with their ability to pick their passes off in the hefty gap between the straight lines of the home midfield and defence. With Monkhouse dropping deep and Dolan trying to get forward they had plenty of joy in that area.
The lead came when Franks crossed and, after Christian Burgess looked like a centre half in the opposition area, it popped out for James, striker’s instinct, to score. Second half was about defending. To see it out, Pools switched to a five-man defence, with Sam Collins introduced. That they conceded was down to a mistake Jack Baldwin will learn from. He was robbed of possession when he should have cleared into the stand, Rovers squared it and John-Joe O’Toole ran onto the ball to knock in.
It was disappointing, but Cooper will make sure it’s not deflating. “The two centre-halves are learning all the time and Christian is learning the physicality of the game,’’ said Cooper. “He has ability on the ball, but to be able to progress he has to learn the physical side of the game and develop that side. “Jack has been doing it for longer and he deals with the physical pressure. For young defenders, as long as we realise they will cock up every now and again, you have to understand it. “I feel that Jack will go on and have a very good career.’’
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