COLIN Cooper admits places in his Hartlepool United team are very much “up for grabs” all over the pitch.
The Pools manager has now urged his squad to stake their individual claims for a starting position in the final weeks before the Sky Bet League Two opener at Stevenage on August 9.
In Wednesday night’s 3-0 friendly defeat to Sunderland at Victoria Park, Cooper named arguably his strongest available starting line-up - with the majority of the team given the full 90 minutes.
But Cooper - who hopes to add some new permanent and loan signings over the coming weeks - has stressed his plans for Stevenage are not nailed down yet, with places up for grabs.
Pools started with Scott Flinders in goal, Michael Duckworth, Matthew Bates, Neil Austin and Darren Holden across the back four, with Tommy Miller, Brad Walker, Jack Compton and Stuart Parnaby in midfield.
Up top were Marlon Harewood and last season’s top scorer Luke James.
Cooper, though, insists it is all to “play for” in the final two weeks of pre-season, with games against Whitby Town away on Saturday, Middlesbrough at home July 30 and Bradford City away August 2.
“There are places up for grabs all over the pitch,” Cooper told SportMail.
“The players still have to grasp the nettle and crack on.
“I would suggest many people would pick four or five players certain to start against Stevenage and that wouldn’t be too far off.
“Many people would have different perspectives on another four or five though and I accept that.
“There is still plenty to play for in the coming weeks.”
What is clear, is that Pools are in need of strength in depth.
Cooper has previously said he is looking to add more experience to his squad, especially in midfield and that could well come in the shape of former Pools and Sunderland midfielder Miller, who played the full game against Gus Poyet’s side as he continues to train with the club.
On the transfer front Cooper has called for patience and insists work is going on behind the scenes to add new faces, hopefully sooner rather than later.
He added: “I am looking to improve what we have got and we might see something in a week’s time that we know will benefit the club and if that deal can be done we’ll do it.
“It might take three weeks, it might even take four weeks but we have to get the right ones and not just get people in for the sake of it.
“I am being asked a million questions by a million agents but it is about finding the right players to benefit us.
“I don’t want to spend the chairman’s money if I don’t think they are the right one.”