THE WEST Midlands influence lives on for Gavin Strachan.

Once a promising Coventry midfielder, Strachan tonight faces former Midlands rivals West Brom after finding regular first-team football at Hartlepool.

A win tonight in the Carling Cup at Victoria Park would be all the sweeter for the 24-year-old.

But it's not just his tidy performances alongside Mark Tinkler which have made the news so far this season.

His liking for scoring from free-kicks has led to the son of Southampton boss Gordon making a name for himself. Bend it like Strachan has become a feature of Pool's play this season.

He's scored two and hit the woodwork from four attempts since his arrival on the eve of the new season.

And he admits the influence of Highfield Road boss Gary McAllister, a Premiership midfielder in his prime while Strachan was at the club, has helped his liking for spectacular set-pieces.

"Honestly, like I said before, I'd never taken them before this season - they just came naturally to me!'' he admitted. "It's a chance to score and when the chance comes you have to take it.

"I can't say I learned it from Gary McAllister, but I suppose it's something you watch him doing in training and pick things up.

"I don't even get the chance to practice them after training here because I'm too tired after training to do anything else.

"It's just a case of give me the ball and I'll give it a go.

"Against Grimsby, I couldn't believe it because the keeper showed me where to put it. I think the one at Bristol City annoyed me the most because if that had gone in, it would have put us in front and maybe another three points.''

Strachan was Pool's penalty hero in the last round, netting the fifth and final spot-kick as Sheffield Wednesday were dumped out of the competition at Hillsborough.

And he had a word of warning for the Pool defenders tonight: "I know a bit about West Brom from my time at Coventry - we were rivals and I played there with Lee Hughes. He's a good goalscorer and very dangerous.

"He's very much a confidence player and he's got a few this season so he will be a big threat to us."

Pool are hoping for a bumper crowd tonight and after their last home outing, the 8-1 routing of Grimsby, they have done enough to bring the crowds flooding back to Victoria Park.

Saturday's defeat at Brentford was only their second reverse of the campaign and Strachan added: "Saturday was really disappointing for us all.

"The annoying thing for us is that we conceded a goal at the start of the second-half. We drew level and then should have gone on to win the game, instead we were chasing it again.

"The message was to keep it tight and then go and win it. We've had a hard week, but won two of the games and should have won on Saturday if we had performed like we know we can.

"The good thing about this game is that we have a chance straight away to put it right again.

"I thought an equaliser was going to come on Saturday, I expected Marco to score and then it looked like Ryan McCann's header was going in until the keeper saved it.

"When we get the ball down and pass it around not many teams can cope with us. Stockport was a different type of game, it was a bit of a battle, but we have showed we can play that way.

"This is a game we can enjoy and we believe we can get a good result.''

Joost Volmer, Macedonia captain Artim Sakiri and Larus Sigurdsson are all on Gary Megson's doubtful list tonight. Ex-Pool defender Phil Gilchrist is likely to start after returning from injury at the weekend.

Gilchrist played alongside Marco Gabbiadini at Oxford and admitted: "He's the sort of player who gets goals all the time.

"He's getting on a bit now, but goalscorers never lose their touch. He works hard and causes problems.

"I've never been back to Hartlepool since I left - I had four good years there and I owe Alan Murray a lot for giving me my debut.

"You have certain points you remember in your career and that is one of them.''

And he recalled: "When I was there we were in the second division and caused an upset by beating Crystal Palace in a cup game.

"They will be up for it and we've got to make sure we are right."

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