COLIN Cooper admits he is keeping a close eye on Luke James to ensure the Hartlepool United striker doesn’t burn himself out.
The 19-year-old played his 31st game of the season in the 3-0 defeat to Rochdale at the weekend and his gaffer said that is a lot of games for someone of his tender years to have played by early January.
Amble-born James has scored 10 goals this campaign and currently tops Pools’ goalscoring charts but hasn’t found the back of the net since the 2-0 home win over Northampton Town back in mid-November.
Cooper and his assistant Craig Hignett are keeping a close eye on the teenager, playing his third season as a professional, to ensure he doesn’t burn himself out.
The pressure on James’ shoulders has been lifted with the arrival of experienced striker Marlon Harewood, 34, who signed for the Sky Bet League Two club on Monday morning and goes straight into the squad for Saturday’s league match away to Fleetwood Town.
His arrival will at least provide support to both James and forward James Poole, who came off against Dale after tweaking his right hamstring.
Trimdon-born Cooper said: “Saturday was Luke’s 31st appearance of the season and while everyone may suggest that he is only 19, at some point, physically or mentally it will catch up.
“I thought Luke again tried his backside off [against Rochdale], wriggled and tried very hard.
“He got those 10 goals so early on before Christmas and I have to watch and say how are you really feeling?
“Now I know he is going to say he is feeling great, but when we watch I say now look at yourself honestly and what are you seeing - are you seeing someone who looks fit?
“While Luke hasn’t picked up any niggles, touch wood, we had Jack Compton who hadn’t played a lot of football last year and came in and had a run and then tweaked his calf.
“Poolie, who had a stop-start career at Hartlepool, played a decent chunk of games up to Christmas and has now had a little tweak and also Michael [Duckworth], who played a lot of games for Bradford Park Avenue, over 90 per cent of their fixtures but only trained once a week.”
Cooper said the club doesn’t have access to a dedicated sports science team so have to track the loads on players themselves, although Pools do call on the help of Teesside University.
The 46-year-old added: “The actual loads we are putting them through might be accumulating and because we don’t have a dedicated sports science we try and track our loads.
“The next job is to see where people’s loads actually are and the only way we can do that is with real honesty from the lads. So every day we ask them for a score between 1 and 10.
“How was the day? Was is it the easiest or the hardest thing you have ever done?
“That is the only way we can monitor it because we don’t have GPS or heart monitors.
“Once you start getting little tweaks and the pitches are a bit slippy then it suggests their bodies are pushed to the limits.
“We have to be careful because at the end of the day they are young players and you think you are full of energy from dawn until dusk.
“You might be full of physical energy but sometimes it is the mental energy and you switch-off and your body switches off for a split second and it is a ‘ooh moment’ and we have had a couple of them.
“While we want those players fit and available, we have to be careful.”