COLIN COOPER accepts League Two is about finding a formula for success; and now the Hartlepool United boss is plotting his.
Pools, under Cooper in his first season in front-line management, were embroiled in a scare at the wrong end of the table in the closing weeks following a six-game losing streak.
They finished in a disappointing 19th spot, and ended the season on a flat note with an insipid home defeat to Exeter City.
While Pools flirted, all too briefly, with the play-offs it wasn’t a sustained challenge and that’s Cooper’s task for next season – to get some real consistency from his squad.
That’s exactly what the promotion and play-off candidates achieved.
And the League Two table did, on the whole, end up looking similar to how Cooper expected it from the start, back in August.
“The table has panned out pretty much as I imagined – not far off,’’ he admitted.
“The bottom half, up to 13th / 14th, has been a real boxed off thing all season, a real mish-mash.
“I don’t think anyone, when Brian Laws left Scunthorpe would have given them a chance. It’s huge congratulations to them, but they have some very good players.
“And in Sam Winnall they have a player who chips in with 20 goals. There’s your key. And the two centre-halves, Mirfin and Canavan are very solid.
“Add to the best goalkeeper in the league, bar none in Sam Slocombe. I think Scott (Flinders) is a very good goalkeeper, don’t get me wrong, but he has been outstanding.’’
Chesterfield ended up lifting the title, a first winner’s medal for Pools’ all-time appearance holder Ritchie Humphreys after he twice finished runner-up while at Victoria Park. He this week signed a new, one-year deal to remain with the club.
Cooper said: “Chesterfield were expected to be up there and they were back financially to make it. Going up was something they had to do.
“The other one, on the edge of it, who were expected was Fleetwood, who have also been backed financially and they made the play-offs.
“Rochdale were one of the best we played – from day one when we lost there. They can score goals throughout and have a decent defensive record. Scott Hogan has come flying out, him and Winnall, have been the shining lights in front of goal, no question about that – other than our own Luke James.
“The others, in and around the play-offs, are the stronger ones. Some teams will just have genuinely good seasons.’’
Cooper spent time talking with his Burton counterpart before their encounter in April. Pools where thumped 3-0, but he hopes to have picked up some usufil pointers for next season.
“Gary Rowett and Burton were in there last year, so he knows what it is all about,’’ said Cooper. “He knew what do to and I asked him when we played them down there at the end of the season, how he had found it.
“I like him, we played against each other and he was a youth coach at Derby as well so we have come across each other regularly.
“I was asking how he had found it in his second year and it was a lot harder, but he has managed to find a way to get amongst it – he knows what it takes. Look at Burton, their defensive record is outstanding and they have a striker in Billy Kee to get up there.
“York have surprised me, but Nigel (Worthington) has found a formula. We are the only ones to beat it and it took us to 80 minutes to break through, but you always felt they would not give anything away.’’
And while Russ Wilcox got Cooper’s vote for the LMA League Two manager of the year award, he admitted following in his footsteps is the aim.
“I think, with my League Manager’s Association voting form, you have to recognise Russ Wilcox and Nigel Worthington,’’ he said.
“Both have found a formula, be it new to management or been to international level, to get the up there. I take my hat off to them both – and now maybe I have to find a formula to go with for next season?’’
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