Full-time: Hartlepool United 0 Rochdale 3
TWO home games in 2014, two 3-0 defeats. The need for Colin Cooper to boost his Hartlepool United squad is clear.
From the high and optimism after the win at Morecambe on December 29, to the lows of Bury and Rochdale, Pools’ strengths and weaknesses have been laid bare.
The potential is within the squad, the ability and willingness is there, but they are falling short. Young players are not quite burnt out, but they are feeling the strain of playing regular first team football week in, week out.
Cooper raised the question after this defeat that his players have given everything, but may be running on empty.
At times on Saturday they looked like they were.
While Rochdale may have made the news seven days earlier after seeing off Leeds in the FA Cup, that result may now not look quite as special after the Championship club were thumped 6-0 at the weekend.
But they controlled the second half of this one.
Following an even first half, Rochdale took a somewhat fortuitous lead and then were never in any danger.
The youthful promise shown by Pools over recent months bodes well, but the players need a helping hand.
Cooper said last week he had a couple of deals lined up.
On Saturday he said he was confident of three new signings in the coming days.
Marlon Harewood, the striker who has played for West Ham, Newcastle and Aston Villa striker among others, is one of them and he is expected to join after leaving Bristol City last week.
Luke James needs some support up front and an experienced front man could do him the power of good.
Middlesbrough’s Luke Williams and Sunderland’s Duncan Whatmore are also high on Cooper’s list of loan targets and could arrive soon.
Ten goals in the early part of this season and a reputation of being a constant menace has turned James into a marked man. Centre-halves don’t give him much time or space to turn and get up a head of steam.
Pools have had their fingers burned in signing experienced players in recent years, as the arrivals of both Nobby Solano and Steve Howard ended in disappointment.
Cooper knows Harewood from their playing days at Nottingham Forest and it is hoped that the 34-year-old will be more of a Gordon Watsontype figure than a Howard.
Pools have just one goal in four home League Two games. After turning their fortunes around at Victoria Park, they cannot slip back into old ways. Cooper won’t allow it.
On boosting his squad, Cooper said: “We are nearly there, nothing confirmed yet.
I’ve three on-going I’d like to think can happen. It’s not down to me. I’ve done the work I wanted to do.
“Now we need to see if other people will allow that work to come to fruition.
“We have the feelers out, got three on-going and we want to take them over the line.
“I’ve spoken to Keith Hill(Rochdale boss) about it all and he’s had a £750,000 bid in for a centre-forward who doesn’t want to leave Rochdale.
“We haven’t had an offer for anyone, but I’d like to freshen things up. We have worked hard for six months with the group and the last two games have showed me that if we can freshen the group up with one or two new faces, then it will add something.
“Until people are through the door and signed, then there’s nothing done.’’ Cooper added: “I have said we are working with a small squad and that means I named all players available for this game. That’s 22, 18 of which were used, so four weren’t involved.
“We have lost Michael Duckworth, maybe James Poole so we are using 18 and only having 20 or 21 to pick from. That’s where we are.’’ This game was, from the off, lacking in life. Both teams started flat and it was 15 minutes before the first opening.
Jordan Richards’ neat freekick struck the bar and Christian Burgess should have done better with the follow up and scored rather than giving Dale the chance to clear.
The key for Pools, as proved time and time again, is scoring first. After conceding just after half-time, they rarely looked like getting back into it. The second came when Peter Cavanagh wellied a volley into the net, with the third arriving in injury time.
Dale beat Pools by the same scoreline on the opening day of the season. While Pools have undoubtedly improved, frailties can still come to the fore.