MICHAEL Duckworth believes last night’s 3-0 pre-season friendly defeat to Sunderland was a good test that will stand them in good stead.
Gus Poyet named a strong Sunderland starting line-up with Adam Johnson, Seb Larsson, Steven Fletcher and Lee Cattermole all included at Victoria Park.
But it was their Under-21 players that impressed most when they came on after an hour and with the score goalless.
Within 17 minutes they’d scored three times and the Pools right-back was impressed with what he saw.
Duckworth told SportMail: “It was a very tough match and certainly our toughest opponents so far this pre-season.
“It was a good test for us all though, playing against recognised Premier League players and wee needed that test.
“Overall, I thought we coped well enough but you could see the difference in the levels, they looked nice and composed on the ball and tried to thread it through when the opportunity arose.
“I thought we coped okay in the first-half against the senior pros and we got to half-time the message was to keep it the same - keep our shape and look to play forward.
“Then it got to 60-odd minutes and Sunderland brought a new team on.
“We were fatigued at that point and they kept the ball well.
“They had high fitness levels, which they should have at a Premier League side, and were clearly trying to impress their manager.
“I guess with the loan market as well, it was a chance for them to maybe sort out a move somewhere.”
Cooper named Duckworth right back, Neil Austin and Matthew Bates in central defence, with Darren Holden in the left-back berth, with all four defenders getting 90 minutes under their belt.
Not that Duckworth is taking anything for granted ahead of the Sky Bet League Two opener against Stevenage on August 9.
He added: “We still don’t know what the back four will be and won’t know until the first game of the season.
“If it is that back four that played against Sunderland then I think we are growing a nice partnership.
“The score finished 3-0 but we defended well at times.
“There is not long left to the start of the season now and everyone is looking to get as fit as possible, impress the gaffer and try and get a place in that starting line-up on August 9.”
Last night’s match was played in front of 5,617 fans inside Victoria Park - with 3,252 of them Sunderland supporters.
Duckworth added: “It was nice to play in front of more than 5,000.
“The biggest roar was when they brought the kids on in the second-half - and what a roar - and if we can get crowds like that throughout the season it will be a good boost to the lads.”
Both sides were playing in their away kits last night, with the Pools players wearing their striking black and pink number for the first time.
Duckworth added: “The new away shirt is nice, I like it.
“Mind, I should try and get it in a medium - large is a bit too big for me.”