Hartlepool Utd selection dilemma for Exeter City

James Poole with players after his goal against Sheffield United. Picture by FRANK REID
James Poole with players after his goal against Sheffield United. Picture by FRANK REID

COLIN Cooper faces the most difficult task of his short Hartlepool United tenure – to pick a team to send out on St James’s Park.

It’s not that the squad is struggling with confidence, given the fact that Pools have just pulled off two of their best away wins in recent times, 4-1 at Mansfield and 1-0 at Sheffield United.

Nor are Pools struggling over numbers – the suspended Steve Howard is the only absentee.

Cooper’s headache is a happy one, selecting from a full-strength squad.

Matty Dolan, a key figure in central midfield until hurting his groin, is able to return and so to are the men who replaced him in the stunning win at Mansfield.

Sam Collins was brought in at the 11th hour in the heart of the defence with Jack Baldwin joining Simon Walton in the middle of midfield.

Collins is over his knee problem while Baldwin has served his one-match suspension for his fifth booking of the season.

Throw in the fact that Darren Holden and Brad Walker made sizable contributions to the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy success at Bramall Lane on Tuesday night and Cooper faces a difficult challenge.

So how can Cooper fit 14 players-plus who deserve selection into 11 jerseys?

“You don’t,” the boss told SportMail.

“I am a firm believer that you should try send out your strongest possible side as often as you can.

“The last couple of games it has not been possible to do that.

“Sometimes it might be horses for courses.

“And I have to say that the boys I’ve brought in have done smashing.

“I don’t think it’s been any coincidence.

“The lads who have come in have really rolled up their sleeves and make a real impact.

“For me, do we revert back [to the previous XI] or do you say ‘you lads who’ve come in and got stuck in deserve another opportunity?’.

“To some extent we had two different teams out on Saturday and Tuesday.

“While a lot of the players played both games I had to make two or three changes each time.

“The thing for me as a manager is I have to think ‘what do I pick that’s going to give us the best chance of getting a result at Exeter?’.

“I’ll make sure everyone is OK and fit and me and Craig will sit down and discuss it.

“Everyone is fit and available for the weekend and it gives me a problem.

“The decision for me and Craig is that we pick the right 11 players who we think will get us the result.

“But, and I said this to the players after Tuesday night, it’s nice to know that I feel the progression is coming and we have a group of players that genuinely want to roll up their sleeves and desperately want to win for this club.

“If we see progression, hunger and desire it’s up to us to give the opportunities to those who deserve it.”

And Pools are winning – suggesting the possibility of three victories on the trot is not a fanciful statement.

Cooper added: “Bit by bit things are coming together.

“Confidence comes from getting results.

“I re-iterate that we have some talented footballers at Hartlepool.

“But basically there is now a changed mentality from a team that are used to losing to a team that don’t like losing and end up drawing and winning.

“If you are drawing games then you’ll start going on to win them.

“That’s what happens when you have the confidence and belief in what you are doing.”

Given the amount of in-form players available to Cooper, as highlighted at the top of the story, second guessing tomorrow’s starting XI could be difficult.

But this reporter has a hunch the boss may not stray far from the side which performed with both solidity and flair at Mansfield.

Even getting on the bench will take some doing this weekend.

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