Hartlepool Utd’s tactical dilemma for Mansfield Town clash

Sam Collins in action against Accrington Stanley. Picture by FRANK REID
Sam Collins in action against Accrington Stanley. Picture by FRANK REID

COLIN Cooper was today facing a tactical and selection dilemma ahead of tomorrow’s visit to League Two form side Mansfield Town.

His Hartlepool United side has picked itself for the last three Saturdays when Cooper has sent out an unchanged XI in his favoured 4-4-2 formation.

But Mansfield operate a 3-5-2 system and operate it highly-effectively as an unbeaten run of eight games proves.

Cooper will finalise his approach at training but admits there could be a switch in approach.

The Stags are renowned as a strong and at-times direct side so Cooper could add Sam Collins to young central defenders Jack Baldwin and Christian Burgess into a BBC combination at the back.

Collins has been forced top watch from the subs bench this season after Collins has paired Baldwin and Burgess at the back.

However, the veteran centre-back remains very much part of his plans and has used him as a second-half sub against Accrington and Bristol Rovers – two of their best results of the campaign.

Cooper also has the option of using Neil Austin as one of the three central defenders.

There is much to ponder for the Pools boss who is likely to start with James Poole up front after his superb performance last weekend against Oxford.

Cooper faces some difficult choices should he match up the 3-5-2 Stags approach.

Given Michael Duckworth’s good forward runs last week and defensive solidtiy, he will remain down the right.

If Duckworth gets the nod as the ‘right’ man Cooper must decide whether to keep Jack Compton on the left.

That would then probably leave Simon Walton and Matty Dolan as the central midfield combination with Poole in the hole behind Andy Monkhouse and Luke James.

Of course, Cooper could stick with his tried and trusted method - Pools created eight chances at Bristol Rovers in their last away game and that was with a 4-4-2 line-up.

Cooper explained: “I have been mulling it over all week because Mansfield play the system they do.

“Do we stick with what we do? Or do we change ever so slightly?

“Me and Craig will sit down have a chat and decide the best way to go.

“We will have it all in place today to make sure people know what is expected of them tomorrow.

“I like to all to be laid out for the players so get everyone prepared in their heads.”

The only other possible selection poser for Cooper is on the bench where goalkeeper cover could be an issue.

A groin problem ruled Andy Rafferty out of the reserve-team game on Wednesday night.

The 25-year-old is in the care of the healing hands of physio Ian Gallagher and should be fit to take his place as one of the seven subs.

Should he miss out there could be a place for Jim Provett, who last made the team sheet during the 2006-07 promotion season.

The goalkeeping coach made his first appearance on the pitch for Pools for six years in the 1-1 midweek draw with Hull City.

With the youth team keeper injured and a loan bid unlikely, Provett would remain the best option.

Mansfield Town boss Paul Cox gave his players two days off to recover from the exertions at Chesterfield last Saturday.

He plans to see if any of his players are still feeling any effects from the win at their local rivals before finalising his team.

Should everyone come through training today, he will send out the same XI which beat the Spireites.

Mansfield (probable): Marriott, Sutton, Dempster, Tafazolli, Howell, Jennings, Beevers, Hutchinson, McGuire, Clucas, Andrew

Subs: Murtagh, Daniel, Rhead, Stevenson, Speight, Meikle, Palmer

Pools (from): Flinders, Duckworth, Baldwin, Burgess, Collins, Austin, Franks, Walton, Dolan, Compton, James, Monkhouse, Poole, Rodney, Rafferty, Holden, Richards.