HARTLEPOOL United’s players have been told to play “without fear” in tonight’s pre-season match at home to Premier League neighbours Sunderland.
Pools take on the Black Cats at Victoria Park (KO 7.30pm) in their third friendly of pre-season.
So far Colin Cooper’s side have demolished non-league Billingham Town 9-0 and beaten Conference North side Bradford Park Avenue 1-0 with a hard-fought win.
Next up is the visit of Sunderland and the Pools manager is expecting a much tougher test.
Cooper told SportMail: “In the last two games we have been overriding favourites as the team in the Football League.
“Bradford wasn’t as comfortable as against Billingham but the good parts from Saturday we need to reproduce without fear.
“If you go up against a Premier League or a Championship team you still have to be able to produce things without showing any fear.
“If you do show fear they will have all of the ball, all of the time and create all of the chances.
“But if you play without fear and are willing to express yourself and try and do the types of things we have been working on then it doesn’t matter who you are playing, you will create things.
“We have some good players but it will be a very stern test against Sunderland.”
Cooper is expected to name a strong starting line-up as he looks to give those players set to start at Stevenage on August 9 more minutes on the pitch.
Ex-Pools midfielder Tommy Miller and Michael Woods, a former Leeds United and Chelsea player, are both training with the club and are set to be named in the squad.
Gus Poyet’s Sunderland played Sky Bet League Two rivals Carlisle United in a pre-season friendly last night and their first team squad is being split over the two matches.
Sunderland also beat Darlington 1883 5-1 at the weekend, with first team regulars Steven Fletcher, Emanuele Giaccherini and Connor Wickham all on the score sheet.
Cooper added: “They play Carlisle as well so there will be two separate teams with a mix of Under-21s, some senior professionals on the periphery of the first team and maybe some that are actually in the first team.
“It will be a very different test because they will want to dominate possession.
“The challenge for us, is can we match what they have got when we haven’t got the ball but still be brave enough to try and produce things when we do have it and see if they are good enough to counteract what we maybe able to throw at them.
“We want to put up a good show and give a good account of ourselves but it is about getting players those minutes and keeping them fit and healthy.
“The Sunderland and Middlesbrough games are both cracking games for the club and the fans and we are looking forward to them both,” added Cooper who played for Sunderland (on loan) and Middlesbrough during his playing days.
Since taking over the reins at The Vic, Cooper made a conscious effort of strengthening the links with North-East neighbours Sunderland and Middlesbrough, in particular.
Last season Pools signed Sunderland duo Connor Oliver and Scott Harrison, both aged 20, on loan, and signed Christian Burgess, Luke Williams and Matty Dolan on loan from Boro.
The Pools manager is likely to adopt a similar tactic this year once clubs have made their fringe players available for long-term loans.
l TICKETS for tonight’s match are priced at £10 for adults and £5 for concessions (Under 16 / Over 60).
Any supporters buying concession tickets are advised to bring the relevant identification with them.
Pools fans will be situated in the Cyril Knowles Stand and Town End for the pre-season friendly with Sunderland.
Tickets for both stands will be available for sale on the turnstiles ahead of kick-off.
Turnstiles open at 6.30pm.
Entry into the Town End will be from the Clarence Road side only, with Turnstiles 7, 8, 9 and 10 open for home fans.
Sunderland fans have been allocated the Niramax Seats and Terrace for tonight’s match but the seats have now sold out.
Tickets for the Niramax Terrace will be available for sale on the turnstiles on the night of the game (subject to availability) but supporters are advised to purchase in advance where possible.
Turnstiles 7, 8, 9, 10 and 11 on the Niramax Terrace will open for Sunderland fans from 6.30pm.