Playing the transfer market
Signing big name players like Steve Howard and Nobby Solano proved a major flop: big wages didn’t mean a big impact and both left in awkward circumstances. Colin Cooper is a massive advocate of handing young players a chance. He’s signed three experienced performers this summer in Matthew Bates, Tommy Miller and Stuart Parnaby, but needs more.
The squad is light on numbers. There’s nowhere near enough depth, with the bench made up of youngsters. Last season, Pools worked closely with Middlesbrough and got three quality loanees in Matty Dolan, Luke Williams and Christian Burgess, while landing Scott Harrison and Connor Oliver from Sunderland to see them through the end of the season.
With Pools operating within tight financial constraints, Cooper’s hands, to a certain extent, are tied and he now has to wait for bigger clubs to finalise their squads before releasing anyone on loan.
So come next month, Pools should have a bigger squad, but starting so thinly isn’t helping convince a solid season is on the cards.
Lack of pace
Pre-season might be about building up fitness and strength for the new season – but it can’t engineer pace when it’s not there and Pools don’t have enough players in the side to tear at, and beyond, the opposition. There’s a reliance on Luke James not only in terms of goals, but also to offer some drive and movement to attacks. Jack Compton is quick, but natural wingers are often flaky in nature. His performances of last season were hit and miss and his absence from the squad at the weekend for attitude and application reasons doesn’t look good so early in the season.
Pools ended last season on a poor run of form and needed a dramatic victory in game number 43 to ensure Football League safety. The bad results coincided with Craig Hignett’s departure to Middlesbrough.
When Cooper appointed Hignett last summer, he admitted they weren’t overly close. But they soon developed the ideal understanding – Cooper’s focus and driven outlook coupled with Hignett’s nous and character providing the perfect partnership.
To many, Hignett was going to be little more than a Terry McDermott character, the joker and backroom buffer between manager and players. He soon proved much more than that and he turned James into a real goalscorer last season. James now wants away, yesterday handing in a transfer request.
After he departed, Cooper worked without a number two and, while he was comfortable in his position, Pools won only twice in 12 games. It’s now two in 15.
Cooper bided his time and appointed Stephen Pears, someone who he trusts and respects. The pair were previously team-mates and coaches at Boro. It is hoped they can replicate the previous double act.
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Managers all have their own take on how the game is played. For Cooper it’s a passing game, built on a strong back four. He was left stunned at the manner of his side’s defending at Port Vale seven days ago, crosses coming into the area to be attacked at will. That wasn’t a Cooper side.
Formation-wise, Pools have to really settle on a formula. Their best football last season came with a 4-2-3-1 set up, James foraging up front on his own. The signing of Marlon Harewood has seen Pools play with two up front in the main, but he’s been a disappointment, playing in fits and starts.
Pools did play 3-5-2 last season, but that was binned by half-time in the game at Cheltenham when they were two goals down.
There was the diamond midfield which Cooper used last season to get the best out of loanees Williams and Jack Barmby, but that leaves Bradley Walker uneasy on the right side and allows teams to attack down the flanks, like Mansfield did at Victoria Park.
The 4-3-3 at Port Vale last week soon turned into 4-5-1 to try and tighten up.
After Saturday’s defeat, Cooper said: “We have to find a formula that works and the personnel in that system.’’
Crowds and season tickets
In 2011, Pools sold almost 6,000 season tickets after a cracking offer where they were reduced to only £100 if they sold more than 4,000. By the time the offer came to a close such was the frenzy it was likened to people buying sprouts for Christmas. But the football served up didn’t match the deal and Pools home form was a disaster. A lack of goals and regular defeats made the most hardened supporter disappointed. And, no matter how much you pay, if the product on show isn’t attractive people will switch off.
This season, Pools have sold around half the amount of season tickets – at £180 a go– of three years ago. It’s still a great offer, among the cheapest in the Football League. But they’ve become victims of their own season ticket success. Keeping the extra fans on board who bought them four seasons ago has proved difficult because, even at vastly reduced prices, at times it hasn’t felt like value for money, such has been the paucity of the football on show in the main.
With the on the day admission price set at £25, there’s little on the day take up.