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Hartlepool v AFC Wimbledon preview
SATURDAY felt, for all at Hartlepool United, that a corner had been turned.
Victory over Plymouth was their fourth in a row the first time they had managed such a feat since September 2011.
At that time Pools were in the upper echelons of League One. Following that run form dripped drastically and its taken two years for things to change.
If they can see off AFC Wimbledon at Victoria Park this evening, then it's five wins in succession a feat not racked up since the end of 2010.
The players, relegated into League Two last season, have responded positively to new management duo Colin Cooper and Craig Hignett, with Cooper talking of his pride after Saturdays' triumph.
Luke James is top scorer with six, and extra hours on the training ground and a rack of individual work with the striker has paid off.
James has two in the last two games, and his individual effort against Plymouth delighted Cooper, who revealed: "I keep saying we work hard with Luke because he wants to work on his finishing and all aspects of his game.
"The one thing I wanted to see, and this is to the nth degree, is when he goes past (Neale) Trotman on the edge of the box does he take little steps before he finishes? If he does then I might just have to give him a little cuddle because thats something we have been working on.
"He generally takes long strides and that leaves him stretching for his ball control. So we say take short steps to finish and then hes not stretching for it.
"It was a lovely finish back across the keeper and the way he took the ball to the opposition was brilliant.''
Pools will be without Jack Compton tonight after he was red carded in the first-half at the weekend. The club decided not to appeal his dismissal for a studs-up challenge and he will also miss the next two games, at Scunthorpe on Saturday and the home meeting with Dagenham on November 2.
Cooper admitted: "There was a sense of frustration with the way the game had started for him and he has let that affect him. When red mist descends, there was a bit of it, no-one can stop you.
"At Mansfield he was upended in the first minute and that was a straight red but the Mansfield player only got a yellow. I dont think this one is a straight red.''
Cooper reorganised into a 4-4-1 formation with ten men and the players showed great resolve to dig out the victory, leading to praise from the manager on a number of different fronts.
"There was the physical bravery of putting your body on the line, blocking and keeping them out,'' he reflected.
"There was the mental bravery in maintaining discipline when the world is again you. Maintain the discipline with the back four and four in front and Luke will give us a hand up top.
"James Poole and Andy Monkhouse had to do something different to what they have been doing and thats the mental discipline out there. We made a couple of changes late on and, even if we hadn't done that, the lads would have maintained that form.
"Mental fatigue can make you switch off just for a second so we had to be switched on. We made two injury time substitutions to counter what they were going to do.''
Cooper could give Jordan Richards or Jon Franks a starting berth tonight, as a direct replacement for Compton. His other option is to move Poole to the right flank and put Antony Sweeney in the starting XI.
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