Time for talking is over for Hartlepool United ahead of 'exciting' York City clash
John Askey’s struggling Hartlepool face a York side who themselves are trying to turn the corner following the appointment of new boss Neal Ardley recently with both clubs still harbouring hopes of a play-off spot.
Pools have endured a torrid time over the last two months with injuries and a loss of form seeing their positive start to the campaign dwindle away while York, who were tipped by many in pre-season to compete for a play-off spot, have suffered their own struggles this campaign with the Minstermen just one point outside of the bottom four.
Askey has had to deal with several setbacks already this campaign as injuries continue to take their toll on the Hartlepool squad.
But one player who is back to fitness is midfielder Cooke, who came off the bench in the recent 2-2 draw with Ebbsfleet United for his first appearance in over two months due to an ankle ligament injury.
Cooke is one of several key players who have been missing for Pools this season but the charismatic midfielder has suggested the time for talking is over for he and his team-mates, with the 26-year-old insisting Pools need to start turning their form around now.
"There’s still an awful lot of football to play,” said Cooke.
“We’re not even into the New Year, we’re not halfway into the season. But we can’t just keep saying we’re going to put it right next week if we have a bad result. We have to start now. And the here and now is Saturday.
"It’s all well and good talking about it,” he added. “I think we did that last year; saying we’ll move onto the next one, but in my opinion you can’t do that because the games start getting less and less. That’s when time does start running out, as we found out last year. So it’s all about the here and now.
"It’s about confidence at the end of the day. Once we start picking up a few results, or once we get a few more bodies back – but even without that, we’ve still got enough in that changing room to do well.
"We just need to make sure we’re doing the basics right, which has been our achilles heel this year.
"The gaffer is hammering us in training that we need to be better in the finer details. People don’t realise how big set pieces are in football. We just need to iron out a few creases.
"I think they’ve changed their manager and they're in a similar situation to us where they’re struggling for a little bit of form. It’s anyone’s game. It’s who wants it more on the day. We’re being backed by a lot of fans so it’s going to be a great occasion.
"When we got relegated and we knew we were going to be in this league with the teams who are in it, I certainly looked at the fixture list and the likes of the York game and the Gateshead game just purely because of the atmosphere.
"We’re going to bring a lot of fans and I love playing in the big occasions, it spurs me on.”
Cooke’s return to the side is a major boost for Askey, but the midfielder is not the only one who is relishing the prospect of Hartlepool’s trip to York – with Pools to be backed by a sold-out away following this afternoon.
Nicky Featherstone is someone who knows a thing or two about important games for Pools, and having agreed his future with the club until the end of the season the 35-year-old, who was of interest to the Minstermen under their previous ownership, believes it is the kind of game players should have no problem in being up for as Pools look to end their poor run of form.
"I think we’ll look at every game in that sense [of it being significant] until we do start winning again,” said Featherstone.
“The York game is an exciting game. We’ll have a really good turnout and if you can’t get up for those sorts of games where we take a big following in a close game [then when can you get up for games?]
"It’s one to look forward to. And we can only look at the next game in the form we’re in. We’re conceding too many goals at the minute but the plus side of that is we’re scoring lots of goals, so if we can tweak a few things and sort out the goals we are conceding then we’ll get back to winning games. It’s just a matter of time. It’s just a belief and confidence thing.”
That self-belief and confidence are things which boss Askey has referenced himself recently, particularly after Pools twice threw a lead away against Ebbsfleet.
"We need results. We’re at that stage of the season where it doesn’t matter how you play, it’s about getting the three points,” he said.
"We’ve got to find a way of winning. At the moment we can’t. But there’s no use in me going in there and keeping on shouting and screaming. There’s one or two in there who are struggling at the moment with confidence.
"When you’re struggling with confidence you have to fight harder and you have to run harder and one or two have to realise that.
"It only comes through encouraging them really, and letting them know that you can’t play well every week and when you’re not playing well then you have to give something else to the team. That’s the secret as to why some players play week in, week out and why some players have careers where they’re in and out.”