NEALE Cooper has managed to transform the fortunes of Hartlepool United and the majority if its players – but none more so than Antony Sweeney.
The Pools chief admits that the midfield ace is now in a “happier place” and performances on the pitch bear testament to that belief.
Since Cooper’s arrival Sweeney has doubled his seasonal goal tally from two to four and has now netted in consecutive matches – his stunning late equaliser at Sheffield Wednesday followed by a headed effort in the 4-0 rout of Carlisle United.
Allied to that, argues Cooper, are much-improved all-round displays, and the manager is delighted with the 28-year-old’s revival.
“Sweens has been fantastic of late,” he told SportMail today.
“Luke James has been getting the man-of-the-match awards recently, but Sweens would be a rival for every one of them.
“He’s been terrific the past couple of matches and we’re seeing what I believe is the true Antony Sweeney.
“He comes in training every day with a smile on his face and I love that.
“I know it’s not always like that, that’s life, but it’s a happy place to work and he’s in a happy place right now.
“That’s important for every player, because only then do you see the best of them when it counts, out there on the football pitch.”
Sweeney, by his own admission, had suffered a dip in form before Christmas.
But last year’s player of the season is now hitting the heights expected of the man who is in his 11th season at Victoria Park.
And Cooper admits that, regardless of position, he knows what he’ll get from the Stockton-born star.
“I’ve used him in the middle of midfield, a bit further forward and out wide these past few weeks,” he went on.
“But every time his energy levels are immense.
“I remember there was one ball in about the 93rd minute at Sheff Wed and he was chasing it down into the corner – I was tired just watching him!
“But that’s what this team is all about, a work ethic like that.
“Sweens has been terrific in that regard and he’s setting thestandard for the team.
“When you’ve got a player like that it makes our job easier – he’s a real joy to work with.”