MATCH REPORT: Neale Cooper prophesied Pools downfall

Scott Flinders makes an excellent block to keep Bury at bay. Picture by FRANK REID
Scott Flinders makes an excellent block to keep Bury at bay. Picture by FRANK REID

“THAT is the sort of performance which will get managers the sack”.

Those were the words of Neale Cooper on August 11.

Pools had just suffered a 5-0 humiliation at Crewe Alexandra – it was the very first day of the new season.

He repeated his prophecy just 10 days later in the wake of another lame surrender, this time at Notts County.

Today, his fearful forecast will truly hit home, for the Scot is almost certain to part company with Pools before Saturday’s trip to Brentford.

Last night, following the 2-1 defeat at Bury, he emerged not with the anger and rage which had ignited those early-season blasts – no, that ferocity has since been drained.

Instead, Cooper cut a resigned figure.

Resigned to the fact that, no matter the effort he invests in team selection, team talk or team tactics, this current vintage of Pools players will, ultimately, cost him his job.

He said so himself with the campaign just 90 minutes old.

Fast forward 16 matches and his side have won just once, scored only 11 goals, shipping a staggering 29 times along the way.

He has criticised his players, he has praised them, he has challenged them, he has even pleaded with them.

Still, he awaits a response.

Sadly, for Cooper, it appears too late.

The fighting spirit on which he prides himself – for which he was famed during his own playing days – has been eroded by a succession of shameful showings.

For one sorry performance can be excused, even two or three and mitigation can perhaps still be put forward, but to take a winless stretch to 12 games is, in the words of Cooper himself, “unacceptable”.

He feels his players have let him down, and they have.

Do not let last night’s late rally mask what had gone before, even if they were within an inch of salvaging a point when Neil Austin’s late penalty hit the crossbar rather than the roof of the net.

No leaders, no creation, no fight – they have all been levelled at Pools since the outset of the season.

And, at Bury – a match they had insisted was “dare not lose” - they again meandered through the motions.

They should have been behind within 60 seconds but Tom Hopper dwelt when in on goal and Scott Flinders saved.

David Worrall was next to burst through but that man Flinders was again equal to the effort.

Pools did fashion one or two openings of their own – the least you would expect against the only Football League side without a victory this term – and Jack Baldwin, Austin and Ryan Noble all drew smart saves from former Sunderland custodian Trevor Carson.

But Carson’s opposite number, the previously impassable Flinders, was beaten some eight minutes before the break, and it was a soft concession.

Dominic Poleon was met with minimal resistance when drifting to the by-line and drawing back for Hopper, who scuffed first-time through the diving grasp of the visiting netminder.

And it was two within 10 minutes of the second half, Worrall sizing a sumptuous curler into the top corner, but again his route to goal had been relatively unopposed.

Pools were never going to fashion a tap-in for Noble, or any player for that matter, to score a goal in this team at present calls for something out of the ordinary.

And so Noble produced the most stunning long-range smash just two minutes later to give Cooper fresh hope.

The scorer was then denied the most blatant penalty-kick when tumbled to the turf by three home defenders.

The non-award played on the mind of referee Steve Rushden and, when Noble again went to ground inside the area just seven minutes from time, he showed no hesitation in pointing to the spot.

Up stepped Austin, having seized the ball from Noble, only for his confidently-taken steer to rebound off the woodwork.

The defender labelled the experience “the worst he has ever felt on a football pitch”.

We can only imagine how Cooper felt in the dugout.

Within 10 minutes the whistle had been sounded on a defeat which leaves Pools bottom of the pile, six points from safety with almost a third of the season behind them.

It was, on the whole, yet another display which had failed to inspire, failed to suggest a turnaround is in sight.

Dare we say it, it was the sort of performance which costs managers their jobs.