AS his Hartlepool United side enter the second half of the season, Colin Cooper has set his players a top-seven target.
In his first season as a manager, Cooper has engineered a steady improvement at Victoria Park.
While the team sits in mid-table ahead of this afternoon’s home game with Rochdale, who last weekend beat Leeds United in the FA Cup, Cooper sees cause for confidence.
Since Dale turned Pools over 3-0 on the opening day of the season, Cooper’s side has made an impression of their own.
And now, with one defeat in seven behind them – albeit a 3-0 defeat last time out to Bury on New Year’s Day – Cooper declared: “We start now playing teams for the second time – the reverse of what we have done, with plenty of ups and downs to come.
“But there’s nothing, as a manager, that frightens me. I feel we have more than enough to match anyone in this division on our day.
“Because we are quite young and at times a bit naïve you have to accept the ups and downs. With confidence and belief, they can get going again and we were unbeaten in the league throughout December until Bury.’’
He added: “Consistency will be the watchword and, as a group, it’s probably the hardest thing in football but we will keep driving them. With one or two injuries we only have a small squad and that can affect us and set us back.
“We hopefully will be able to get one or two players this month and beyond. January is a time when clubs are buying players on permanent signings, we are not in that market and we aim for loans. If we do a permanent deal then great.’’
Cooper must manage without Matty Dolan after his parent club, Middlesbrough opted against extending his loan deal in favour of having a close look at their midfielder.
Bradley Walker and Simon Walton will start in central midfield this afternoon against a side which eased to victory over Leeds – a game watched by Cooper and his right-hand man Craig Hignett.
“We didn’t start 2014 great against Bury, but December wasn’t a bad month. Let’s start again this week,’’ he insisted.
“We were at Rochdale last weekend and I would be surprised if they fall down after the high of beating Leeds. They have lads with energy who are up for every game they play, with youth and experience.
“There’s lots of energy, a vital commodity last week against Leeds and they were a threat throughout. They took the lead and grew with it. It could have been three of four quite comfortably.
“I imagine Keith Hill was very happy with it, but there’s seven days between the game and I imagine he will get them down to earth after a game like that.
“The older players in the squad will make sure they are level-headed from it.’’
Pools are 15th in a tight League One table, seven points shy of seventh-placed Fleetwood who they face next weekend.
“We have 19 weeks of the season left and if we perform to a good level for the majority of that we'll be in and around,’’ he added.
“If we have highs and lows we'll probably end up not far from where we are now.
“If we have a lot of lows we'll end up in the bottom half of the table
“But I know we have enough ability in this club to be in the top half and pushing towards the play-offs by the end of the season.
“Time will tell and confidence, consistency and belief will be the watchwords over the coming 19 weeks, but it won't happen if we don't work really hard.
“We have a lot of technical ability, we can play good football but we have to be able to match anyone or anything the league throws at us.’’
Pools have not played since New Year’s Day and Cooper gave his players a few days off following the Bury defeat before returning to the training ground on Monday.
“Having had a little break, I'm hoping the players will come back refreshed and enthusiastic,’’ he said.
“Having seen the whole division now I'd have to say Rochdale are one of the best footballing teams in League Two - hopefully we'll have a good football match.’’
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