COLIN Cooper today paid tribute to a “great professional” after Hartlepool United and Steve Howard parted company.
The powerful striker left Victoria Park yesterday after the club and player agreed a “financial settlement” to bring an early end to his contract which ran out next summer.
Howard had been out in the Pools cold following his injury-time red card in the controversial 3-1 home defeat to Oxford United.
The 37-year-old’s three-match suspension coincided with the start of Pools’ improved form and after returning from his ban he was unable to break back into the mach-day 18.
It always seemed a case of when, rather than if, the Durham-born player would depart the club.
Howard wanted to leave in the summer but after talks with new boss Cooper and assistant Craig Hignett he went on the pre-season tour to the Netherlands and featured in the opening weeks of the Sky Bet League Two programme.
Pools fans, angry at some of the comments Howard had made in an early-summer interview, welcomed him back but his second spell at the club came to a sad end on September 28.
He was sent off by referee Jeremy Simpson for a mistimed tackle on Oxford sub Scott Davies.
“Me and Craig had conversations with Steve from the summer onwards,” Cooper told SportMail.
“But credit to him, he got his head down and started the season.
“We convinced him to plough on but after his ban with the team doing well, he found it more and more difficult.
“I think he decided it was may be time for him to go.
“We fully suport him, thank him and wish him well for whatever he decides to do from here.
“He goes with everyone’s best wishes and credit to him for the nice things he’s said.
“He’ll always be more than welcome at the club.”
Howard first played for Pools in the mid to late 90s, scoring 27 times in 142 appearances.
But his career took off after a move to Northampton Town and he went on to enjoy great spells at Luton Town, Derby County and Leicester City.
Howard re-joined Pools in the summer of 2012, but his return coincided with the side struggling for form at the bottom of League One.
The veteran striker’s finest hour came at Bramall Lane during the festive period when he scored twice in the sensational 3-2 win at leaders Sheffield United in the top v bottom confrontation.
The steel city was clearly a favourite haunt for Howard, who ended last season on loan at Sheffield Wednesday.
Howard won praise from boss Dave Jones for his contribution to the club’s Championship survival but talk of him going back to Hillsborough this season did not come to anything.
Cooper added: “Credit must go to Steve who has been a great professional as a career of 700 games and 200 goals shows.”
A HUFC statement on the club’s website said: “Steve, whose contract was due to expire at the end of the season and who has been unable to secure a first-team place in recent months, has agreed a financial settlement which is to the benefit of the club to reduce its costs and acceptable to him.
“Such savings to the club are vital to ensure that we adhere to the Football League salary capping requirements and will also allow flexibility for bringing in loan players should they be needed.”
Howard also spoke to the club website, saying: “I would like to thank everyone at the club for their help and understanding.
“Everything has been done very amicably on both sides.
“Obviously I wish all the players and staff well for the rest of the season, I really hope they can go on and have a successful campaign.”