MATCH REPORT: It should be players, not Cooper, sweating on future

Peter Hartley tries to get in a header at the Notts County goal. Picture by FRANK REID
Peter Hartley tries to get in a header at the Notts County goal. Picture by FRANK REID

IT wasn’t just sweat pouring from an enraged Neale Cooper, with each bead of painful perspiration flowed another brutal truth.

The translation of his post-game explosion was stark, “These players could cost me my job”.

Harsh? Don’t dare tell Cooper that.

Rarely does a manager give such a passionate and honest assessment of what has just unfolded, let alone with a campaign in its infancy.

His blast was animated with expletives, reddened cheeks ready to burst with rage, and not to mention the sweat, first set on its way minutes earlier during the most fervent dressing-room dressing-down.

The season is three games old, but Cooper has read the script.

He knows where such a sorry narrative ends.

Not for no reason did he repeat the words, “my livelihood”.

The adrenalin of August can often skew a view of what lies ahead, but that is a criticism usually reserved for the press.

When such stinging soundbites emanate from a manager, then it’s time to sit up and take notice.

Cooper would not be so bold to raise the question of his employment did he not harbour grave concerns over the character of those who, ultimately, will determine his fate.

He demands better. He deserves better.

Eventually, his most extraordinary interview tailed off, Cooper was done.

No point trying to pick positives, he simply shook his head and wandered away – his hurt was all too evident.

And the source of his fury?

Two hours earlier, when the heavens opened, Cooper did not imagine he would wind up in hell, witnessing the most listless of performances.

The unrelenting rain spoiled the opening 10 minutes or so.

Neither set of players really wanted to be out there.

The difference was, County adapted, Pools sulked.

The hosts revelled in the zippy conditions, soon realising that the surface lent itself to crisp passing and sharp movement.

Pools, on the other hand, laboured.

County were ahead on 16 minutes.

It was a routine delivery into the area.

But, from amid a cluster of heads, it was Francois Zoko, escaping minder Peter Hartley, who nodded into the bottom corner.

There were further chances in the half, all for the hosts, as Scott Flinders parried from Lee Hughes’ skidding drive before snaffling the rebound at the feet of Jeff Hughes.

But at the other end there was, well, nothing.

It is four-and-a-half hours without a goal now.

Pools are yet to marry midfield to attack, and Steve Howard was again horribly isolated.

The majority of his headed flicks found Gary Liddle – the only problem being that Liddle left Pools for Meadow Lane three months ago.

The old boy cruised through the game at centre-back, like each of his defensive comrades in fact.

Tony Sweeney was anonymous in the first half, likewise Jon Franks and James Poole, the latter paying the price when he was hooked at the break.

Simon Walton toiled in the centre of the park and did well to make it beyond the hour before his withdrawal.

Paul Murray, on for Poole at half-time, was the one positive to emerge, and he must surely start in three days’ time at Leyton Orient.

At the back, skipper Sam Collins, outstanding against Swindon on Saturday, failed to steady the sinking ship and he was in the vicinity when Neal Bishop fired a belated second four minutes from time.

Pools had not even managed a shot on target, a Howard header which looped harmlessly over the crossbar the sum of their offensive efforts.

They didn’t even flatter to deceive – for there was nothing, all over the park.

Mistakes you can excuse, but Cooper cannot tolerate lethargy or a lack of desire, and that is what he sees.

He’s not afraid to air those views either, privately or in public.

He’s not for conning the fans, and he won’t be conned himself.

His players have been warned – it should be they, not him, sweating on their future.