Neale Cooper challenges wing wonders to prove their worth

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NEALE Cooper plans to play a 4-4-2 system with Hartlepool United this season – and jet-heeled duo James Poole and Jonathan Franks could be his wing wonders.

The pair – both 22 years old – started each of the recent friendly matches in Holland occupying the wide-midfield positions.

Cooper believes the former Premier League academy graduates could be the answer to his quest for energetic widemen with pace to burn and a teasing delivery to match.

On the evidence of the two games in Holland there is still work to be done, but Cooper is hoping to see more from both players in the coming weeks.

“I will look to play 4-4-2 this year but it has to be right,” he explained.

“James could play that role on the left from what I’ve seen, and Jon can play on either wing or through the middle.

“They are both attacking minded but those positions require a bit of discipline as well and you’d have to put a shift in to help the full-back.

“But if you’ve got fitness levels like those boys have then that shouldn’t be a problem.

“But we’ll have to see what we do – it’s early days and we’re still looking at options.”

Franks became Cooper’s first signing of the summer when he joined from Middlesbrough back in May.

But Poole – who missed the bulk of Cooper’s first six months in charge because of injury – also feels like a new addition for the Scot.

“Poolie’s been one of the big surprises coming back in and has obviously been working really hard over the summer,” the Pools chief went on.

“I noticed how well he did in the fitness tests and he’s really looking strong.

“When he came back after Christmas he was never really fit and his hamstring kept going.

“It was a bit of a nightmare during the second half of the season.

“But from what I’ve seen he must have put in some work over the summer.”

Cooper, though, insists that both young players must learn how to play their new role.

“Jon’s a boy who takes criticism on board and that’s good,” he said.

“In that second game in Holland he really found his range and put some terrific balls in.

“But there are little things Jon has to do better and I’ve spoken to him about that.

“He’s a young lad and has got great enthusiasm and he’ll learn.

“Poolie’s final ball could have been better at times, but he, too, will learn and get better.

“If we can get our widemen delivering balls into the box then it’s up to us to get someone on the end of them - that’s the plan.”

Meanwhile, Pools have confirmed their squad numbers for the coming season.

There are no real surprises, new signings Jonathan Franks taking the number seven vacated by James Brown, Simon Walton wearing eight with Poole moving to 10, while Steve Howard will be 39.