NEALE Cooper now has a firm idea of the starting XI which will kick off the new season for Hartlepool United.
Pools’ campaign gets underway a week on Saturday when they travel to Crewe Alexandra for their League Cup first-round tie.
Before that they entertain Middlesbrough at Victoria Park tomorrow night while Hull City are the visitors this weekend.
Cooper’s boys took the Premier League scalp of Sunderland on Friday night thanks to Steve Howard’s early strike.
And the boss – thrilled with his side’s performance against the Black Cats – has today given an indication of the formation and personnel which will be used when the competitive action gets started.
“The team which beat Sunderland would have been the team if the season had begun at the weekend,” he told SportMail.
“I’m getting an idea of what I will do at Crewe and that is what everything is geared towards.
“I’ve tried a few different pairings in various areas of the pitch and now have a good idea of what has the potential to work well.
“But nothing is ever set in stone and there’s every chance for someone to impress me in training and in the matches we have before the season starts.”
The manager’s selection on Friday saw Luke James given the nod to partner Howard in attack ahead of the likes of James Poole and Colin Nish.
Poole also missed out on a left-wing berth with Andy Monkhouse used on the flank.
In the middle of the park it was new signing Simon Walton and Tony Sweeney who were paired, while Jonathan Franks occupied the right-hand side of midfield.
And it was last season’s first-choice back five of Scott Flinders, Neil Austin, skipper Sam Collins, Peter Hartley and Evan Horwood who made up the defence.
The impressive 1-0 win over the Wearsiders was Pools’ first of the summer, but Cooper still sees room for improvement.
“I have been critical of them during pre-season because I didn’t think they looked sharp in the matches,” he went on.
“There were reasons for that because we were working them hard.
“But on Friday they looked much sharper and it was much better, and they know that.
“We still have to cut out the mistakes, though, because they will cost us.
“Things like Neil Austin turning and playing it back to the goalkeeper three times, we shouldn’t be doing that – why put yourself under pressure?
“So there are still things I need to hammer into them, but I think we’re going along nicely in the right direction and we’ve now got two good friendlies against Middlesbrough and Hull to look forward to.”
Meanwhile, a Pools XI featuring Nathan Luscombe won 1-0 at Consett on Saturday thanks to a second-half chip from reserve-team coach Micky Barron who was on as a substitute.