Cooper praise for big Sam

AT THE HEART OF THE EFFORT: Sam Collins in action against Mansfield Town. Picture by FRANK REID
AT THE HEART OF THE EFFORT: Sam Collins in action against Mansfield Town. Picture by FRANK REID
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HARTLEPOOL United boss Colin Cooper will today be keeping his fingers crossed that Sam Collins will be fit to wear his number five shirt tonight.

Collins was a late addition to the Pools starting XI at Mansfield Town on Saturday when midfielder Matty Dolan failed a fitness test.

The seasoned campaigner was paired with Christian Burgess, who was still at primary school when Collins first played professional football.

But the old cop/ young cop combination proved an excellent one and they conceded just one goal at Field Mill, to a penalty.

And Cooper wants to send them out again tonight at Bramall Lane for the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy second round tie at Sheffield United (kick-off 7.45pm).

Collins though hurt his knee early on in the win at Mansfield and was one of the walking wounded Cooper hopes will be fit for cup action.

And the Pools boss was full of praise for the 36-year-old.

“We had to make a late change on Saturday,” said Cooper.

“Matty tweaked his groin in training on Friday but when we left Hartlepool on Saturday for Mansfield he was confident he could play.

“But after a fitness test he found he could not play.

“I think plan B of bringing in Sam and pushing up Jack Baldwin into midfield suited us.

“Sam, I have to say, has been a terrific professional, keeping himself ticking over and helping with the younger lads.

“We have given him that opportunity on the other side of the fence, with the reserve team.

“But on Saturday he has gone out and shown what a decent centre-half he is.

“Where there is a physical challenge he’s definitely up for it.

“I thought he was absolutely tremendous.

“With Jack alongside Simon Walton they provided a barrier in front.”

Given Baldwin must sit out tonight’s trip to South Yorkshire after picking up a fifth booking this season it makes the presence of Collins even more vital.

If they decide to take no risks with the old stager, Cooper will likely turn to another Yorkshireman to fill the gap, Neil Austin.

The stand-in skipper was tremendous at the back on Saturday and can operate successfully as a central defender.

Cooper saluted Austin and all his defenders at Field Mill.

The Pools defence had, collectively, let themselves down against Oxford with some slack work while previously there had been a couple of individual slips against Accrington and Bristol Rovers which cost them goals.

“We saw a lot more from Christian in a physical sense,” Cooper explained.

“He was tested but he stood up to it and got stronger as the game wore on.

“Neil was terrific, Scott Flinders protected us and came for things when he needed to.

“Michael continues to progress in my opinion.”