COLIN Cooper says his Hartlepool United players need to do more to “grind out” results on the road if they are to achieve their slim hopes of a top seven finish.
Pools – who slipped to 11th and are now six points off the play-offs – have a double header at Victoria Park this week starting with Mansfield Town tomorrow night followed by the visit of Cheltenham Town on Saturday.
But it is the poor away form causing real concern to Cooper, still frustrated following Friday night’s 1-0 defeat to Oxford United at the Kassam Stadium.
In the last five away matches, Pools have picked up just two points from 15.
That, coupled with a weekend win for York City to move them seventh and points for fellow play-off chasers Plymouth Argyle, Southend United and Dagenham & Redbridge, meant Pools lost ground.
Poor results on the road are in stark contrast those on home soil though, with Pools unbeaten in five – winning four and keeping five clean sheets along the way.
But recent away defeats to Northampton Town, Wycombe Wanderers and Oxford United have been “missed opportunities” according to Cooper, who has called on his side to grind out results like at Southend United (1-1) and Accrington Stanley (0-0).
“The last few away games have been missed opportunities,” Cooper told SportMail.
“If you look at the results they have all been very close and that is the frustrating thing.
“Nobody has turned us over, and that continues to be the case, but if we don’t sparkle like we did against Bristol Rovers [4-0 win at home] then we have to grind.
“If you look at the last two away defeats – Wycombe and Oxford – we have not been
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“We have not really put the blocks up and thought “tonight may not be our night but we will keep 11 men on the pitch and get something”.
“We did that at Accrington. For the final three away games we have to come home with something.”
A David Connolly header from a free-kick in the 77th minute was enough to secure all three points for 6th-placed Oxford, who strengthened their grip on their play-off place.
But if Pools are to join the party then they are going to have to win at least two more games than everybody else, a big ask for a side so inconsistent in recent months.
Pools have three more away games this season - Portsmouth (April 5), Burton Albion (April 19) and Plymouth Argyle (April 26).
Cooper said: “Let’s hope at our last away game at Plymouth we need to get something to get us into a positive position and then we can see what happens with the final home game against Exeter City.
“But the six games in between are going to be important because we have to somehow try and bridge that [six-point] gap.
“We can only do that by playing in a disciplined fashion and not by playing gung-ho and just thinking we can throw the kitchen sink at it.
“We have to try and do it the way we have been, by making sure nobody turns us over, to try and keep the ball out of our goal knowing we will create something.
“Oxford created a little bit, we created a little bit but they have ended up winning 1-0 and that is the disappointing bit,” added Cooper, who took advantage of a rare Saturday off to watch Scunthorpe United against Burton Albion, with Pools playing Burton in mid-April.
Oxford’s win was the last in charge for caretaker manager Mickey Lewis, who had been holding the fort since former boss Chris Wilder left for Northampton Town.
On Saturday, they named Gary Waddock, who had been watching the match from the press box, as their new head coach.
- RICHARD MENNEAR