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James has a smile on his face again
LUKE JAMES, as anyone at Hartlepool United will testify, is as happy-go-lucky as they come.
The teenager made a massive impact in the first-team - and on League One - at the turn of the year when he was given a chance.
Some effervescent performances and three goals for Pools had scouts flocking to Victoria Park.
Since then he's suffered from a bout of growing pains and a dip in form.
But even after his wonder strikes against Rochdale and Carlisle last season, the 17-year-old left last Saturday's game as happy as he has ever been.
Beaming from ear to ear after his first goal of the season, the decent finish against Scunthorpe was more than his first strike of the season.
It was a turning point - the end of a poor run in front of goal, his previous effort was in January, but also, it is hoped, the return to the James of nine months ago.
"There's been a lift in Luke this week after his goal,'' revealed Cooper. "He has been disappointing, he knows that, but the goal will do him good. He has grown and now he can use that to his advantage with better balance.
"He took his goal well, a good touch and fired in. It was a good goal from Jonny (Franks) too, coming in from that area and he has a good strike on him.
"Getting on the scoresheet will do them and the team good.''
Cooper was never shy to give youth a chance in his past spell in charge and today, against Carlisle, he comes up against one of those players he blooded in 2002.
Matty Robson made his debut for Pools - and scored - in Cooper's first game in charge and the left-sided player was given a regular chances in those two campaigns.
Robson will line up for the Cumbrians on the left wing today, now into his third season at Brunton Park after leaving Victoria Park with 170 Pools appearances under his belt.
"Matty was a young lad who did well,'' said Cooper. "We've watched Carlisle and he's done well of late wide left, he did a lot at left-back for me.
"I gave him a chance here for us and he's done well in his career. He's a danger, as is JP McGovern, on the other flank.
"He's been in the game for a long time now and was always a good pro, a good trainer. He's a strong engine on him to get up and down the park. It's like Ritchie (Humphreys) and Paul (Murray) - they are in better shape now than ever because they take care of themselves.
"And the younger boys should look up to that. There's not an ounce of fat on Paul, he makes sacrifices to be a professional.
"Matty has been a good pro, he's what 28/29 now, and it will be nice to see him.
"I was at the golf at Rockliffe Hall on Wednesday and saw Ben Clark, he was a good player for us, I liked Ben, he was a good signing from Sunderland.
"It was nice to see him and catch up, same with Matty. We had a good spirit and have fond memories of the past.''
Now Cooper's task is to try and lift Pools to the heights they reached during his previous, successful stint.
They reached the League One play-offs in successive seasons back then and, while there's some way to go yet to make an impact on the top six, the boss is sure they can head in the right direction.
Last weekend's win over Scunthorpe, scrappy though it was, was a first win of the season and starting point.
"It was a relief, it was important to win at home, but it was a nervous win too,'' he reflected.
"We missed a penalty and it wasn't until late on we finished them off.
"We can still play a lot better, but at least we won with a clean sheet.
"Last season against Carlisle it was a great result for us, a really good game and one of the best performances of the season. They are a good side, with a really good manager (Gregg Abbott), someone I can class as a friend now.
"I didn't really know him before I came in and he's a very nice guy. We are all out for the same thing - to do better than each other - and this is no different. It's set for a very good game.
"They finished last season really well and they have a good blend.''