MANY times last season – and it was a mantra he often repeated – Colin Cooper referred back to a piece of advice he was given before taking over as Hartlepool United boss.
It’s all about what you do in both penalty areas: a statement he firmly believes in.
As he approaches his second season as a football manager, Cooper is sticking with the principles.
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Now he accepts he needs to take it on a step further and improve on both aspects, in his own 18-yard box and that of the opposition.
“Many times last season we spoke about how I wanted to play and how we go about things,’’ he mused. “For me, it’s all about what happens in the 18-yard box.
“Your philosophy and ways – and we saw some wonderful football in the World Cup – are what you base things on and my philosophy and ways are about trying to play good football through the thirds while being creative.
“Last year we probably weren’t good enough in our own box to keep it out of our goal and we probably weren’t good enough at the other end in the opposition penalty box.
“So to focus on two things then yes, I will still continue on what we do in between those areas, but let’s do it right in both boxes.’’ Pools will still aim play football in the manner Cooper demands – on the floor through the midfield.
At the back, they will be stout. Pools didn’t crumble last season, never shipping piles of goals on a regular basis as they have been capable of doing too frequently in the past.
But at the other end, they never made too much of an impact. Fifty goals conceded and 56 scored in League Two tells its own story.
Cooper remains on the outlook for new players and his plan is to utilise the loan market in the coming days and weeks.
Middlesbrough, Sunderland and Manchester United were all happy to send players to Victoria Park to develop last season.
Cooper’s reputation as a coach keen to develop and nurture young talent goes a long way to attracting players.
He didn’t do badly last season in landing the likes of Matty Dolan, Luke Williams and Jack Barmby and if he can work the same oracle this time, Pools will be better for it.
He said: “Look at the players I have at my disposal, even taking into account younger players, we are low numerically. But if I get the right people in to benefit the club they will be the core. The transfer window doesn’t close until the end of the month and clubs won’t release them until late.
“We all want a good, solid 15/16 and then four, five to rely on and include.
“I think it’s a debacle that you don’t have your squad in place by the time the season starts. That’s my opinion.
“I said at the end of last season we had some real highs, but the consistency levels weren’t enough. We try to up them and improve on it. We knew we could compete, but not on a regular basis. We have had a look at it and we are up for the challenge.
“Anyone who comes here has to want to win, develop themselves and improve the club.’’ Signings have been too few and far between – so far at least.
Cooper got two first-rate signings in straight away, Stuart Parnaby and Matthew Bates in from day one of pre-season. Tommy Miller follows today.
Landing more and getting another batch of players in has proved a tad more problematic.
“I got Stuart and Matthew in early and I said a lot of times last season I want people who can do a lot for me,’’ added Cooper.
“Both have played at the highest level, both can handle the physicality and both are excited about things which excites me.
“They are looking forward to the challenge and are leaders, good men. If you have a good core in your dressing room then you have a good chance of success.
“Stuart gets on with his job, is a good solid individual and a very good footballer.
Matthew has leadership qualities and can organise.
I wanted some good, solid players with experience who can help our young players along with a will to win.
“I feel as though I’ve brought people in who are better than who left. It’s my job to do that. Over the course of 12 months I’ve assessed where we are and I feel we need a good spine to the team. There was a lot of youth in the team last year, but I’ve added very good footballers who will be good for the club.’’
COMMENT by Nick Loughlin
COLIN COOPER has the nous, the masterplan, and the credentials. But has he got the tools he needs to succeed at Hartlepool United?
Last season was a mixture of promise, frustration, disappointment and, ultimately, relief.
But should Pools have been in danger of relegation?
Weeks earlier they harboured genuine hopes of the play-offs and flirted with the top seven.
Fast forward a few games and they were looking over their shoulders. While the atmosphere and celebration that followed the Easter Monday win over Morecambe was a high, it was a scenario that never should have arisen.
Pools’ form tailed off spectacularly towards the end of the campaign. The thin squad and youthful nature of key players caught up with them.
This time around and, while Cooper is out to bolster his squad, at this moment is it really stronger than last time?
Pools won’t concede many.
Scott Flinders will be a better goalkeeper for working under Stephen Pears. Matthew Bates should be a solid presence.
Cooper still needs a centre-half and getting Christian Burgess back from Middlesbrough would be a boon.
In midfield, he’s moved on the enigma that was Simon Walton and is after stability, someone to play and teach Bradley Walker the mechanics of a being a first-team player.
Out wide and Jack Compton seeks real consistency and needs to make a regular impact, the same scenario applies to Jonathan Franks.
It’s up front where Pools may fall short. Is there enough goals in the side?
Luke James has had his breakthrough season. He’s now a marked man. The progress he made last season will continue and can top last season’s 16-goal tally. Marlon Harewood is unlikely to score that many. Pools need more than cameos within games.
The prudent approach of owners IOR has worked well over the years, but Cooper doesn’t have the budget previous managers enjoyed.
Another year has passed without as much as a murmur from the councillors in charge of the stagnated Mill House Masterplan. That planned redevelopment of Victoria Park and the surrounding area will have a massive impact on the club’s future well-being.
It’s high time we saw some positive movement on that front. The town is struggling, and the Town’s Club is too important to allow it to drop into a state of decay like many aspects of Hartlepool.