Almere City 3 Hartlepool Utd 0


NEALE Cooper joked afterwards that he had contracted “seasonal affective disorder” during his stay in Holland – but it wasn’t just the miserable weather contributing to the Scot’s SAD disposition.

That alone, however, was enough to leave anyone downbeat – relentless rainfall, swirling winds and the need for floodlights in July?

It’s not what it said in the brochure, as one North-East manager famously quipped.

However, hostile playing conditions aside, performances this week have done little to cheer the usually-jovial Scot.

He’s as honest as they come, is Cooper.

And, following both defeats, he has refused to hide behind the mid-summer timing of their happening.

He has his standards, no matter the month of the year.

On Sunday, against Telstar, it was the lethargy which irked.

Mitigation, though, was found in the form of a fairly rigorous training session on the morning of the game.

Last night, with energy levels restored, it was instead the “suicidal” defensive errors which left him annoyed.

But the overall team display, at least in the second half, was better.

Jonathan Franks showed just why Cooper has earmarked him for a right-wing berth this term, the summer signing serving up a series of inviting deliveries – it was just a shame that big Steve Howard had withdrawn by this point, as the wideman later laughed himself.

Evan Horwood, implored forward by his dugout, also got in on the act after the break and he, too, sought to bombard the box with his equally-enticing crosses.

Elsewhere, Andy Monkhouse was a danger in a centre-forward role and Tony Sweeney was occupying the penalty-box pockets from which he picks his invaluable goals return.

But by this point Pools were already trailing.

In fact, they were lucky it was just one.

Neil Austin had twice made a mess of attempted balls back to teenage goalkeeper, Dominic Scott.

The first skidded into his own side-netting and Austin had Scott to thank for saving from the Almere striker after he had seized upon the second, errant return.

But the opener did eventually arrive five minutes shy of the interval, the ball finding its way to the far post with minimum opposition where Stefano Lilipaly climbed aboard the shoulders of Austin to head home.

There were a few disgruntled faces as the Pools boys exited at the interval, evidence that the outcome – although ultimately academic – is still a cause for pride.

And that showed in the second half.

Peter Hartley went close with a header from a Franks corner, Austin’s curling free-kick was flapped around the upright and Monkhouse, from another Franks centre, lashed a stunning volley just inches wide.

But then, on 70 minutes, promise of a leveller turned to the despair of concession when a James Poole delivery was intercepted and the hosts broke at speed, the dreadlocked Charles Dissels climaxing their counter-attack with a low finish across Scott.

As the increasingly-influential Franks later admitted, blue-and-white heads dropped from this moment on.

And a third Dutch goal duly arrived six minutes from time, player of the season Hartley guilty of an uncharacteristic howler as his undercooked back pass allowed Rowin van Zaanen to scurry clear and dink over Scott in nonchalant fashion.

It was, in fairness, an unjust scoreline from which to sign off from their stay in the Netherlands.

But Cooper knows there is much work to be done over the coming weeks, not least with North-East neighbours Sunderland and Middlesbrough next up at Victoria Park.

They say there’s a heat wave just around the corner back home in the UK, let us hope the sunshine is not the only reason we see Cooper smiling again.

Pools: Scott, Austin, Collins (Baldwin 46), Hartley, Horwood, Franks, Sweeney, Murray (Humphreys 46), Poole, Howard (James 61), Monkhouse.

SportMail star man - Jonathan Franks came into the game in the second half and demonstrated why his right boot could be a vital source of goals this coming season.