THE only time to change a team is when its winning.
That was one of the many philosophies of the late, great Liverpool boss Bill Shankly, who knew a thing or two about winning.
And Colin Cooper faces a quandary of whether to alter a successful Hartlepool United line-up ahead of tomorrow’s visit to Northampton Town (kick-off 3pm).
Cooper has sent out the same starting XI against Newport County and Southend United, with Pools extending their unbeaten run to four matches thanks to a 3-0 win and 1-1 draw.
The Pools boss is, traditionally, loyal to players who are producing the goods on the field.
Ordinarily, he would say ‘same again’ were everyone to report fit for the trip to Sixfields.
But given the last two games have been tough tests, physically and mentally, the 46-year-old, together with assistant Craig Hignett, faces a tricky decision or two.
With Jack Barmby, Jack Compton, Jonathan Franks and James Poole all offering an attack spark – and all champing at the bit – Cooper could be tempted to freshen up his starting XI.
“I keep saying to the players that if you are in the team and doing well, my first thought is that you deserve to keep your place,” said the manager.
“In a three-game week we will look to see if the third game is stretching anyone.
“We have people who can come in and do a job and people who can come off the bench and do a job.
“It’s a case of seeing how everyone is today – we’re all training at Victoria Park before setting off.
“We watched the Southend game on the way back the other night and we’ll look again to see if there’s anything we change.
“And then, when we’ll look at Northampton in detail to see if there is anything there we can exploit?”
Cooper and Hignett may need to work their magic not just tactically, but psychologically.
Pools have performed at a high standard to beat fellow play-off chasers Dagenham & Redbridge and Newport County – scoring five goals and conceding none at Scott Flinders’ end.
They also had their chances to beat seventh-placed Southend but a 1-1 draw kept them six points outside the play-off positions.
On paper, a trip to Sixfields would appear to present a chance of sticking another three points in the final column of the league table.
“We have played teams at the top and done well,” said Cooper. “But we won’t allow standards to slip.
“We stressed after Tuesday that we don’t put that level of effort in to get something at Southend and then flatten at the end of the week.
“We have to peak again on Saturday.
“There is a lot of energy in this squad.
“It’s important we have enough energy to compete [at Northampton], be stubborn and keep the ball out of our goal.
“We must then be creative in possession to counter what Northampton have and try and win the game.
“It’s a fair point that there’s the mental side of it at the end of a long week with lots of travelling.
“But we give them as much rest as we can and hopefully everyone is as fresh as possible and we’ll get going again.
“We’ll prepare on the Vic and try to pick a team which we hope will give us a good chance of getting a result.”
Only one player definitely won’t feature – Neil Austin.
The skipper has missed the last three games with a sore big toe after taking a heavy blow to his foot in the goalless draw with Scunthorpe and physio Ian Gallagher has warned the manager he may not be ready until the home match with Torquay next Saturday.
“I was told by the physio at the end of last week that he could not see him back in the squad until after Northampton,” Cooper explained.
“I’ve not heard anything different to that.
“Hopefully he is back next week.”