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No rest for the Pools squad
THERE’S been a change in outlook at Hartlepool United in the last week or so. Gone is the happy-go-lucky character of manager Neale Cooper, as he turns the
club’s training ground into a seven-days-a-week boot camp.
Days off cancelled, double sessions introduced, travel plans and preparations altered – and if Cooper and his coaching staff upset the odd WAG or two then tough. Shopping trips and days out are well and truly off the agenda.
Deflated, confused and stunned by the malaise amongst his players at times this season, Cooper has a simple way to get his team back on track: hard work.
And, until performances and results improve there won’t be any let up. Days off have to be earned not given.
Win at Colchester today and the players might get a day off next week. Not tomorrow, however, as the squad will be in for training in preparation for Tuesday’s home game with Sheffield United.
“We're having morning and afternoon sessions when we can, but the weather has disturbed that a little,’’ said Cooper.
“They did work hard [this week]. It's great having days off, but you have to deserve it, and we haven't deserved that yet.
“They know what I’m like - If you do well, win games and go about things in the right manner then you get time off with me, but it has to be deserved and at this moment in time they haven’t deserved it.
“I have enjoyed this week with the boys.’’
Even yesterday, ahead of the five-hour haul down the A1, Cooper changed the routine. Instead of setting off from the North-East and collecting players en route, the squad was in for a practice match yesterday morning before heading south.
“We will work them hard again, which we will do at Maiden Castle,’’ said Cooper.
“We can do what we have to do in terms of a practice match and set-plays and then travel down after that, rather than finding a patch of grass down south somewhere.
“Friday morning we are training on our own training ground early to get our work out the way and then travel down.’’
Cooper normally gives his players a tough ride on a Tuesday, with regular slogging sessions on the cards. Instead of one-day a week, it’s now becoming the norm.
“They got hammered on Monday afternoon on the training ground in the pouring rain,’’ he said. “I took them personally and I got drenched.
“I just feel that sometimes you need that extra work – it's not punishment, it's just to make them stronger and fitter.
“I like to work with the players and speak to them.
“We need to do better, to do that you work harder.
“If we were flying there's no-one as good as me to say 'well done lads, you deserve that (time off), but we have to be out there training now.’’
Swindon boss Paolo Di Canio has so far this season granted his players just one day off. It’s a policy working for the promotion-chasing Robins.
And Cooper admits it’s up to his players to prove themselves and make sure their own family time gets back to some sense of normality.
“If I was a player at this moment in time I'd be looking at it thinking 'I don't want to be in on Sunday' – that's the reaction I want,’’ he said.
“I'd think 'I promised to take my wife out on Wednesday'. Next thing she comes to me and I've got to say 'sorry love, I'm training'.
“Then she comes to me and says 'well you better well win next week'.
“You'd think 'we better win today because my wife is slaughtering me'.
“Sunday is now part of the schedule, what with playing Tuesdays for the next few weeks.’’
While the majority of his squad live close by, a number of players are Yorkshire-based and Cooper said: “I know some of the lads live a bit further away, but this is their workplace.
“I will try to understand, but I never told the boys to live there, they chose that.
“It's give and take – and until they give me what I'm after then we have to work harder.
“The sessions are more intense and quite physical.
“It's not a punishment, we just have to be better.
“I've got a great bunch of boys here, I just need a bunch of boys with a winning mentality and a fighting spirit.’’