COLIN COOPER is leaning on the experienced professionals at Hartlepool United in the temporary absence of an assistant manager.

After Craig Hignett left Pools for Middlesbrough this week, Cooper's backroom team is a man down.

While the manager wants to get the next two games - at Wycombe tomorrow and Accrington on Tuesday - out of the way before fixing his thoughts on a replacement, he has already had plenty of interest in the position.

And he's also got the older heads in the dressing room taking a grip of the situation.

"I've noticed from the players, a kind of recentering and focus, from the older players especially,'' he insisted yesterday.

"It (Hignett's exit) spreads me thin, I left training on Tuesday for a meeting, then went to the reserve game at Hull, and there's an afternoon session the lads have to do with the strength and conditioning coaches - the older players took it on board to make sure it was very good and very professional.

"I met the players on Tuesday morning and put a bit of onus on them, older players especially. We are a bit thin staff-wise, so it's up to them to put a little bit more of themselves out there.

"No extra pressure, but if my eyes and ears can't be everywhere then we have older players in there to keep things in check.''

And Cooper is out to continue the good work he and Hignett put in as a duo to keep Pools in the play-off hunt in the coming weeks.

"We hope it's going to be a very exciting end to the season and we can't look at what's happened as an excuse,'' he said.

"I will take my time, there's no rush to appoint. Craig was good at the job he did and I will be looking for someone equally as good. I've had messages, the club has had messages and it's positive that people want to come in and join in the work we are doing.

"There's people I know, people I've never worked with before in football, who have acknowledged that I must be doing something right for those to throw their hat into the ring and want to be part of it.

"With us having a busy week, we don't have time to do stuff so over the next week, two weeks, we will assess and look at it properly.''

Which direction Cooper takes in appointing a new right-hand man remains to be seen. He secured Hignett last summer to form a managerial team despite the pair not being close friends beforehand.

And, following Boro's approach, Cooper admits it shows he must be doing something right at Victoria Park.

"From Middlesbrough's point of view, I would suggest of the players we have had - two have been called back because of how well they have done for us. Christian (Burgess) is still here and in eight months, he is a hell of a lot better player than when he came in here, so that's very good for Middlesbrough.

"Craig had not been given a chance in full-time football and I gave him that opportunity.

"Down the line for Middlesbrough to come knocking again shows that I am actually decent at the job I do.

"The timing of it is crap to be honest, we still have plenty of things to play for, but these things happen. Timing isn't always great and, while I wish them all every success, I have to concentrate on Hartlepool.''

Pools will again be without Neil Austin (toe) and Michael Duckworth (leg) for tomorrow's game.