COLIN Cooper labelled Hartlepool United’s 4-0 demolition of Bristol Rovers as the best yet – and has called on his side to maintain their play-off push.
Pools dominated the Sky Bet League Two match and took the lead in only the 58th second courtesy of a Marlon Harewood header from a yard out.
Teen sensation Brad Walker then hit a stunning 25-yard strike to make it 2-0 in the 15th minute before second-half goals from Simon Walton and Jonathan Franks completed the rout.
It was 10th-placed Pools’ biggest win of the season and victory meant they closed the gap on the top seven to just three points, after Plymouth Argyle and Southend United both dropped points.
“My challenge is when was the last time we went away from home and put on a real show?” said Cooper ahead of Friday’s visit to sixth-placed Oxford United.
“And our next challenge is against a team in the play-offs, so we will see what happens.
“Hopefully, Saturday’s result sends out a message and it should make our players feel good – we’ve nothing to lose so we may as well believe we can catch the teams above us.
“It won’t be easy as we have some tough games, both home and away, but you never know.
“We are not going to get relegated so we might as well believe we can go and catch the top seven.
“We have to show the same grit and determination as at Accrington, allied with winning games and if we come away from
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the away games with something and back that up with our home form, you just never know.”
Beaming Cooper was delighted with his outstanding players against Bristol Rovers and said the forward play “excited him” – while the rearguard managed their fifth consecutive clean-sheet on home soil.
Asked whether that was the best overall performance of the season, Cooper said: “Yes, you could say that.
“The thing that pleased me was I had watched Bristol Rovers play and if I’m brutally honest I was concerned the shape we played we might end up on the back foot on the flanks.
“But because we started so well and dominated possession, our shape was better than Bristol’s.
“We were very good and the goals were all really well made goals as well.
“From a manager’s point of view, the work you do during the week and over a period of time – to see the players receiving the ball on the back foot and wanting to attack Bristol’s goal was very pleasing.
“I thought there were some very, very good individual displays and collectively we were fantastic – keep the ball out of our goal and we always have a chance.”
Cooper was not only delighted with the three points and the overall performance, but he said it “sends out a message” to the rest of the play-off contenders.
Pools take on sixth-placed Oxford United away on Friday night and he wants to see the home form repeated away from Victoria Park.
“We have managed to do our job on Saturday,” said the 47-year-old.
“The next nine games will be just as difficult as every other game we have played this season but we are more than capable of giving anybody a game.”
The Pools gaffer reserved special praise for 17-year-old Walker, who was head and shoulders everybody else in the first-half and capped off his fine performance with a belting goal.
Cooper added: “Some of the forward play we produced was exceptional, it excited me.
“I thought Brad started off like a house on fire and his goal was exceptional – we are running out of superlatives for that boy.
“Brad is an exceptional talent and there is an awful lot of people watching him and he is one that we are very keen to ensure his future is secured here.”