HARTLEPOOL United are today four points adrift of League One safety – but Neale Cooper insists a turnaround is in sight.
The Pools boss, however, admits that his side is in desperate need of a morale – and points – boosting victory, Saturday’s 2-1 defeat at Crewe Alexandra their third reverse on the spin and seventh without a win.
It leaves them in a precarious position one from bottom at the foot of the third tier with nearly a quarter of the campaign now behind them.
Cooper, though, sees reason for positive in the creation of several goalscoring opportunities during the last two matches, and feels the arrival of Sunderland loanee Ryan Noble will provide the attacking edge his team has so far lacked.
Next up is tomorrow’s Johnstone’s Paint Second Round tie at home to Bradford City, before the league visit of Doncaster Rovers on Saturday.
And Cooper – who has proved he isn’t afraid to criticise his men when he feels just – believes there is cause for optimism despite the worrying run of results.
“It’s really frustrating and I feel for the lads,” he told SportMail today.
“Things are getting better but we still haven’t won the last two matches.
“We’ve played our best stuff of the season last week, against Sheffield United on Tuesday and then again at Crewe.
“We had six or seven good chances on Saturday which we haven’t taken.
“But when your luck is down it has a habit of kicking you in the teeth - that’s the way it is at the moment.
“The last two performances have been very good – but I would rather play badly and win right now.
“We just have to build on Saturday again because I can see a definite improvement.
“We have to fight on and we will, but we could really do with a win because I think our recent performances have deserved that.”
Pools took a ninth-minute lead at Gresty Road when substitute Evan Horwood scored within 60 seconds of his arrival.
But goals from Chuks Aneke and Mark Ellis – interspersed by a Mathias Pogba penalty miss – condemned Pools to their sixth defeat of the season.
Ellis’s 70th-minute winner came when he poked home from close range after a free-kick was allowed to travel unopposed through the area, Jack Baldwin having needlessly conceded the set-piece for a push on Max Clayton.
And Cooper reflected: “The second goal was soft – Jack gave away a stupid free-kick when there was no danger.
“But it’s got to be defended better when it comes in.
“You think ‘God, it’s one of those days again’ and it wasn’t to be for us.
“But we started well.
“I thought Ryan looked sharp and you can tell he’s going to make a difference for us.
“You will never be in total control of a game and they were always going to come back into it.
“But that game should have been finished with the chances we created.
“We were careless and let them back in.”