TOP boss Colin Cooper faces a test of his managerial skills long before Hartlepool United’s FA Cup first round confrontation with Notts County.
Cooper must make one enforced change to his winning Pools line-up as centre-half Christian Burgess sits out the visit of the Magpies because of a one-game suspension.
And, the 46-year-old must decide whether to bring Jack Compton straight back into the starting XI following the completion of a three-match ban.
There are two “options” for Cooper to ponder at the heart of the defence – current skipper Neil Austin or a former captain, Sam Collins.
The veteran Collins was outstanding in the 4-1 defeat at Mansfield – a result which launched the spectacular run in October – after being a late call-up following Matty Dolan failing a fitness test.
And when a knee injury ruled him out of the next game at Sheffield United, Cooper paired Austin with Burgess at the heart of the defence with Darren Holden filling the resulting gap at left-back.
With Collins having played little this season and Holden looking lively for the reserves, Cooper could well plump for Austin, though he explained he is still weighing up his choices with assistant boss Craig Hignett.
“We have a couple options to replace Christian and me and Craig will sit down and discuss it,” said the 46-yesr-old.
“There’s the Sheffield United scenario of putting Neil Austin in the middle, or big Sam Collins if we look at the experience side of it all.
“We will have a think and decide on the best plan for what we think will be a hard and exciting cup tie.”
Much trickier for Cooper will be a dilemma over Compton.
The wide player was in a rich vein of form until a rash moment saw him red-carded in the win over Pymouth after an impetuous challenge.
If Compton did earn an instant recall, it would probably be as a replacement for Jonathan Franks though that would be harsh on the Stockton lad who has performed well on his return to the starting XI.
“If I was in the team that played last Saturday I’d probably feel a bit aggrieved [to be left out],” admitted the October manager of the month.
While Cooper is picking from a position of strength, the same can’t be said for new Notts County boss Shaun Derry.
Appointed in midweek Derry, who will be assisted by former Carlisle boss Greg Abbott, has selection issues.
The first problem is that he is ineligible to play himself, denying the midfield a strong defensive operator and leader.
Striker Danny Haynes is banned after being red-carded at Coventry last Saturday while on-loan forward Marcus Haber has been refused permission to play by parent club Stevenage.
Fortunately for County, two of their other loan men, Jack Grealish and top scorer Callum McGregor, have been allowed to play by Aston Villa and Celtic.
They are set to be joined in the advanced positions by Yoann Arquin with the French striker coming in for Haynes.
Former Pools star Gary Liddle will probably continue at right-back after a groin injury to Mustafa Dumbuya.
Pools (possible): Flinders, Duckworth, Burgess, Austin, Holden, Franks, Walton, Dolan, Monkhouse, Poole, James. Subs (from) Richards, Collins, Compton, Walker Sweeney, Rodney, Rutherford, Rafferty.
Notts County (probable): Bialkowski, Liddle, Leacock, Sheehan, Holt, Labadie, Boucaud, Tempest, Grealish, McGregor, Arquin.
Subs: Fotheringham, Smith, Campbell-Ryce, Thompson, Speiss, Coombs, Murray