Cooper backing striker to fire Pools into contention

The Northern Echo: UNITED FRONT: Luke James celebrates with Marlon Harewood last week UNITED FRONT: Luke James celebrates with Marlon Harewood last week

FOR Colin Cooper, team spirit and unity cannot be fabricated. So last weekend, as Luke James celebrated scoring for Hartlepool United and the first person he jumped to was Marlon Harewood, Cooper could read a lot into it.

Harewood has yet to score in his seven outings for Pools, but Pools have lost just once in six games, and they sit on the cusp of the play-off zone ahead of tomorrow’s trip to bottom placed Northampton.

The 34-year-old has brought plenty to Pools, and he feels Tuesday’s draw at Southend was his best display to date as his levels of match sharpness rise.

“Last week, Luke scored and the first person he celebrated with was Marlon, which was a good sign,’’ reflected Cooper.

“I’ve played in teams when managers have said they wanted players to celebrate together to make it look like they are together. If you do it naturally then there is a togetherness and that can only help.

“If you feel you are pulling your plum out for your mate and he is pulling his plum out for you then you have half a chance.’’ Harewood’s presence up front has taken some of the physical strain from James, who has netted three times playing alongside the well-travelled striker.

Cooper added: “Marlon will be everything I’ve expected and more as time goes on here. The one thing that I said to him was that, first and foremost, was to be a focal point of our attack. He’s getting there slowly and he’s found it hard, while really enjoying the challenge.

“He has certainly helped Luke in taking some of his knocks for him and he is desperate to score and desperate to do well.’’ Harewood and Cooper go back a long way. Sixteen years ago they were teammates – Cooper the experienced professional and captain, Harewood the promising youth team product – at Nottingham Forest.

They did only play together once before Cooper left for Middlesbrough, but the centre-half had already long earned Harewood’s respect.

The Northern Echo:

And it’s a feeling that has carried on to the current day now they are reunited at Victoria Park.

Harewood is one of the older, experienced heads in the dressing room, passing on the sort of nous and know-how Cooper did to him in the 1990s.

“When I was at Bristol City I had a role to help bring the younger lads on and anything I can do to do that I will in the best way I can,’’ said Harewood.

“I played with Colin at Nottingham Forest. I know him as Colin from then, but now he’s the gaffer.

“It’s a similar situation to when we were players, because I looked up to him then as well. I was only a young player starting out and he had the respect of everyone at the club as one of the senior pros.

“That’s how I saw it when he phoned me to speak about coming to Hartlepool. We had a chat and he is one of those people in football who has an aura about him, someone I have always looked up to.

“I was in the youth team at Forest, he was a senior pro to look up to. It was a privilege to come here and work with him – a no-brainer for me because he was a legend at Forest.

“And it’s nice to see him working at close quarters again now.’’ He added: “At Forest there was a load of good, senior professionals in the dressing room who people looked up to and he was one of them.

“He looks after everyone and looks after everyone and now, as a player I want to look after him as a manager and do what I can for him.

“I’ve not spoke to him for a few years, our careers in football took us to other clubs, but he is someone who I kept a look out for and watched. As a manager, when he phoned and wanted to talk about what he wants to achieve here at Hartlepool, that was enough for me.’’ A stark reminder for Harewood of his standing in the game came on Tuesday night. Brad Walker’s stunning volley earned Pools a good point at Southend – and Harewood couldn’t believe the midfielder scored such a wonder goal at such a young age.

“It’s a very young team here – I think I realised more so on Tuesday night. Bradley Walker scored and then started talking about how old he is!’’ he laughed.

“I was asking ‘how old are you?’! It’s really good to have so many young, talented players in the squad here and to have a talent like that at 17, I would hope he can carry on doing the right things and enjoy a good future.’’ Cooper felt Tuesday’s game was Harewood’s best so far. Ahead of tomorrow’s trip to Northampton, the manager admits he sees the striker getting better by the week – and it could all add up to a positive end to the season for the club.

“He said it himself and I saw it myself that he showed a little bit more on Tuesday at Southend – more aggression and more umppph,’’ reflected Cooper.

“That’s because he’s built up his minutes and is finding his feet a bit more.

“The longer the season goes on, the more he contributes and if we are in the mix as the season progresses then he could come into his own.

“He cannot not play for as long as he has and fire straight away, so we have given him every chance to get as many minutes on the pitch as he can without killing him.

“Luke enjoys playing with him and now it’s about getting Marlon into a place on the pitch to score goals. He might take the knocks and the bumps for others, and be a focal point, but he wants to score goals. Ultimately, Marlon Harewood wants to be banging in the goals for Hartlepool United.

“What might happen is that over a period of the next few weeks and months he will get stronger which could be brilliant for us.’’

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