Can Cooper bring back glory days to Hartlepool Utd?

Neale Cooper
Neale Cooper

IT is on a much smaller scale, of course, but Neale Cooper’s return has been welcomed with a fanfare akin to that of Kevin Keegan’s second homecoming on Tyneside four years ago.

That reaction – if employed as an initial barometer of the appointment’s success – suggests Pools have got it spot on.

And therein lies the over-riding reason for Cooper’s return.

Cast your mind back to the programme notes of chairman Ken Hodcroft and chief executive Russ Green prior to the removal of manager Mick Wadsworth – his sacking had nothing to do with a perilous league position or discord in the dressing room, it was the fear of disharmony spreading on the terraces.

Supporter numbers were down – by almost 2,000 on early-season gates – and the Pools hierarchy didn’t like it.

They’d gone to price-busting, headline-grabbing lengths to re-engage the floating fan over the summer. And it – the £100 season-ticket offer – had worked.

So, when nearly one in three supporters were choosing to stay at home despite having forked out for their ticket, it was time to act.

A list of candidates to replace Wadsworth soon emerged.

Several high-profile names were interested, including that of newly-installed Northern Ireland manager Michael O’Neill, who heard nothing of his application.

Others made sense – Brian Laws, Phil Brown, Jim Magilton and Dave Penney to name but a few.

But none boasted the “Super Cooper” factor – that ability to conjure a swift remedy to falling crowds.

Already there is talk of 2,000 away fans descending on Bramall Lane this Saturday to welcome their returning Messiah.

The visit of Scunthorpe United on Monday could see numbers tip the 6,000 mark for just the second time this season.

If that turnout does transpire and Pools manage to end the club-record run of eight straight home defeats with a long-overdue Victoria Park victory, then Hodcroft will be a happy man.

The short-term goal would have been achieved – the feel-good factor will be back and Pools will be heading into 2012 with a new manager, a new start and fresh hope.

And where from there?

Well, there was a less-than-subtle hint during yesterday’s unveiling of Cooper that he won’t be handed the proverbial transfer-kitty “war chest” next month – “he fully understands the economic constraints that the owners have to keep in place due to the current financially-depressed climate”.

But then that would have been true of Wadsworth and will be the case for the majority of League One managers – so that is no criticism of Pools.

Cooper will have to work with the players he inherits.

So what will his remit be? To reinvigorate a play-off push? To stave off the possible threat of relegation?

In reality, neither of those eventualities are likely given current resources.

Not good enough to go up but too good to go down is just about the state of play right now.

What will be hoped of Cooper is that he brings back that sense of enjoyment and excitement which has been sadly lacking – especially at home – in recent months.

He is charismatic, instantly likeable and is still the most successful manager in the club’s history, successive sixth-placed finishes in League One see to that.

His last dealings with the English game, however, were more than six years ago following a largely unhappy stay with Gillingham.

That does lead to immediate questions regarding his current level of lower-league knowledge, but in time that will hopefully come.

In the long term, then, can he mastermind a return to those heady days of the mid 2000s?

He will no doubt be given time to do so, for supporter sentiment will safeguard against that.

He should have the backing of his players – a level-headed and thoroughly honest bunch – and coaching staff, too, for there are enough survivors of his previous tenure to spread word of its success.

And the chairman – having rebuilt the bridges which were broken following his shock departure in 2005 – will surely fight his corner when it comes to strengthening the squad further down the line.

But, for now, it is Cooper’s responsibility to kickstart a campaign which had become dull, predictable and not enjoyable to watch.

And those are three criticisms which certainly cannot be levelled at the new man.

The same could also be said of Geordie Messiah Keegan –let’s hope this fairytale has a happier ending.