DON'T entertain any thought of a play-off hangover at Victoria Park this season.

Hartlepool United were within minutes of a Millennium Stadium final with a place in the Coca Cola Championship up for grabs.

But Neale Cooper and Martin Scott will ensure there is no sense of what might have been lingering along Clarence Road.

And, for anyone expecting Pool to suffer mental scars from the last three minutes of action last season, they have been there before and bounced back stronger every time.

Anyone remember Cheltenham, Darlington and Blackpool?

Effervescent Cooper and sidekick Scott led Pool to their best season in the club's near 100-year existence last time around.

Now there is a burning desire to go one better in the next nine months and secure league games against the likes of Sunderland and Leeds.

Cooper, however, knows it will be harder.

Pool earned buckets of respect last season. The club has rid itself of the Mickey Mouse label after five years of sustained success.

The place now smacks of professionalism from top to bottom, on and off the pitch, thanks to the company who can bang their own oil drum, Increased Oil Recovery Ltd.

Cooper, entering his second campaign as an English league manager, said: "This season will be harder than last, there is no surprise factor about Hartlepool now, although maybe that went after a few games last season, especially after we thumped Grimsby 8-1.

"We know we have to keep working hard and be organised, but we like to play good football as well.

"Our organisation on the park is spot on and that is important, as much as the way we move the ball around.

"We did shock a few teams last season and it is going to be hard this season.''

The likes of Micky Barron, Chris Westwood, Mark Tinkler and Ritchie Humphreys provide a strong and experienced backbone. They have been around throughout the success and their roles should not be underestimated.

"We have great spirit and a good workrate, they all work really hard together,'' added Cooper.

"The squad has been built up over a number of years now.

"We always have some young boys coming through here, but you cannot always rely on them week in, week out. And last season we were quite fortunate at times with injuries and suspensions, because we never really suffered.

"We lost Marco (Gabbiadini) through injury, but he was the only one.''

And, with a reputation and a name for giving young players a chance, Pool's future is in good hands.

With a professionally-ran centre of excellence and a successful youth team, Cooper is ready and willing to dip into the pool of youth players and give them a first-team opportunity.

He admitted: "Younger players will get a chance at this club, we proved it last season and people know that.

"We have a strong youth team and a busy centre of excellence and that can only be for the good of the club.

"Craddock and Brackstone are two young lads who have come back stronger pre-season, Jack Wilkinson has a knee problem and probably needs an operation and there is young David Foley.

"He's only a wee lad, but is gaining in strength and is very lively up front. He's not the biggest, but it's not always about size."

But while new faces at Pool have proved scarce, plenty of others have gone all out in the transfer stakes.

Peter Ridsdale has overseen a new team arrive at Barnsley, Chris Turner has done the same at Sheffield Wednesday.

Ridsdale's new boss Paul Hart wanted to change, Turner needed the new faces. Cooper, however, admitted: "Some have spent a lot of money and I don't know where they are getting it from.

"We have to live within our budget and that's how it is here.

"Sheffield Wednesday have signed Peacock from Bristol City, but I think City will still be strong.

"I was suprised to see Danny Wilson lose his job, but he spent a lot of money at the club - our only money spent last season was ten grand - and look how close we were to beating them in the play-offs.

"Boards and chairmen look for a return and they are still in our league.

"Peacock is one of the best in the division and he is on a big wage. I spoke to his agent and you wouldn't believe what some players are looking for.

"I would have liked Zola, the boy who went from Newcastle to Tranmere, but his agent was the same.''

And Pool have to start the season without their skipper. The club's longest-serving player Barron is out for up to six weeks after a second hernia operation this week.

That is likely to give Jack Ross an early chance and Cooper admitted: "It's a blow losing Micky and it could be five or six weeks. We will get by, but he is an important player at the club.

"Jack Ross has fitted in well, he's a good pro and the boys have taken to him.

"Any new boy coming in here has to fit in, we look for certain characteristics in a player and a person.

"We work hard, have a laugh and the team spirit is important. They never complain when they are in on a Sunday, they get on with it. They discipline themselves, things like fining each other if they forget a water bottle in training.

"They are very good in that way and very disciplined, but they have a laugh together and work very hard together.

"Those characteristics come from the training ground and out on the park every game.''

Read more about Hartlepool here.