Howard will prove the difference for Hartlepool Utd in front of goal

Steve Howard. Picture by FRANK REID

Steve Howard. Picture by FRANK REID

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NEALE Cooper insists that Steve Howard will prove the difference when it comes to transforming Hartlepool United’s fortunes in front of goal.

The Darjeeling-born boss grew increasingly frustrated towards the back end of last season as his side toiled in the final third, one goal drought stretching a painstaking 10 hours.

As a result Cooper’s summer wish list was made up entirely of midfield and forward personnel, with Howard his chief target.

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And, with the new League One season now just two days away, the first-team coach is confident that the 36-year-old striker can provide Pools with the edge they were sadly lacking last term.

“It was no secret I was dying to get Steve,” Cooper told SportMail ahead of Howard’s home debut against Swindon Town.

“I think he will be a major asset for us this season – in fact, I know he will.

“He’s a stage player, I’ve played with people like that and I like them.

“He likes to play on a platform and he’s the type who will rise to a challenge.

“So he really has been a major signing – the boys love him and the fans love him too.

“And I’ve really enjoyed working with him.

“He’s a tremendous lad to have around the place and the other lads really respect him.”

There were glimpses of what Howard will bring to the side during last weekend’s 5-0 League Cup mauling at Crewe Alexandra.

Twice the Geordie got his head on the end of Jonathan Franks’ deliveries and, on another day, would have opened his Pools account.

But Cooper believes Howard’s new team-mates must learn how to capitalise on his aerial and physical dominance, especially those who are tasked to join him in attack.

“The likes of Luke (James) and Poolie (James Poole) haven’t played with someone like that and they’ve got to learn how to,” he went on.

“We’ve seen Steve win quite a few headers and put balls into areas where we’re trying to teach Luke to run.

“Once Luke and the others learn how to play alongside him then I think we’ll be a real threat.

“Because don’t forget Stevie can also bring others in, the wide players and the full-backs, and they, too, have to make the most of him.

“His experience will help the whole team.

“He will never run away from anyone, but he gives you a great presence and we’ve got to make full use of that.”