Colin Cooper's not banking on an end to Hartlepool United's boom and bust

Colin Cooper has added three players with Uefa Cup experience to his squad, but he is still bracing himself for another season of highs and lows

Football - Hartlepool United v Sunderland - Pre Season Friendly - Victoria Park - 23/7/14 Hartlepool United Manager Colin Cooper Mandatory Credit: Action Images / Craig Brough Livepic EDITORIAL USE ONLY.

Hartlepool United’s 2013-14 was about as inconsistent as you can get.

Colin Cooper took two points from the first 18 available to him as a senior manager, then won eight and drew one of the next 11 matches. A corner perhaps had been turned.

Perhaps not. Just three of the following 17 games were won, and as winter turned to spring, a relegation battle looked on the cards. Fourteen points from 24 and suddenly the Teessiders were thinking of the play-offs, only for six straight defeats to put a stop to all that.

The end result was a 19th-place League Two finish – disappointing for a club that had spent the previous five seasons playing at a higher level.

No great surprise, the football sages will tell you.

The 30 players Cooper used last season started it with an average age below 24. Received wisdom has it that youth equals inconsistency and Hartlepool only seemed to prove the point.

Thirty-year-old Antony Sweeney and 33-year-old Andy Monkhouse have gone, but in their place have come former Middlesbrough pair Matthew Bates and Stuart Parnaby.

Ex-Newcastle United striker Marlon Harewood was added midway through last season, and after yesterday’s training session, the signing of midfielder Tommy Miller, once of Sunderland, was completed. All four have played in the Uefa Cup, never mind the Premier League.

Even Cooper’s new assistant, his former Middlesbrough goalkeeper Stephen Pears, is longer in the tooth than his predecessor Craig Hignett, who returned to the Riverside last season to link up with Aitor Karanka.

So does Cooper expect that greater experience to bring an end to Hartlepool’s boom and bust?

“No, no, not possible,” he replies.

“It’s not the youth that’s inconsistent – it’s the group. We will have massive highs, massive lows and we want to be somewhere in between.

“The experienced players can add to the squad and I have brought players in to go into the team. Experienced or not, age is no issue.

“I played when I was 17, and when I was 39. Show me the qualities and you can play.

“We have that massive spectrum. Every club will be up and down, and as long as you don’t get too up and too down, then you will be fine.

“We finished 19th last season. We ended up where we did. It’s my job to make us better and if better means we can compete, then brilliant.”

Cooper’s grounding in coaching came at Middlesbrough’s prolific academy, so for all his talk of age just being a number, it is no surprise to see him rely heavily youth, particular players expertly guided by Parnaby’s father Dave at Rockliffe.

Financial constraints at Victoria Park are a factor too, of course, but Football Association chairman Greg Dyke would most definitely approve.

You will not find him shouting the odds for the coming season, for his club or anyone else’s.

“No one stands out for me,” he insists when asked who he thinks will be leaving League Two by the front door in May.

“You have seen over the summer those who have done a lot of dealings and those who went up last year, it was those with money to spend.

“You will see teams spring up like last year, teams like York. You hope to be in the mix.

“Consistency is the question. Scoring enough goals, not conceding too many goals. All managers are the same.”

As Cooper speaks to the media at sunny Maiden Castle, the start of the new campaign is just over 48 hours away.

This morning, his squad will board the coach for their opening match, away to relegated Stevenage.

Triallists and targets – almost all, it seems, with strong North East connections – have come and gone. Jonathan Greening joined Blackpool, Cameron Park has apparently “opted to work with a personal trainer” rather than train with Hartlepool and a third former Middlesbrough player Jason Kennedy has no intention of leaving Bradford City.

Such is the craziness of the transfer window that Cooper’s squad is not yet fully formed. With Football League clubs allowed “emergency” loan signings (in the loosest sense of the word) most of the year round, it probably will not be even when the window closes at the end of the month.

Again, though, Cooper is sanguine about it.

“I’ve made no bones that I’m still trying to do some work to get players through the door,” he explains.

“I’ll be like every other manager in the country, there will be things get done this week, next week and the week after. We are looking for more. We have to wait for clubs to release players after things have worked for them.

“But I’m more than happy to head into the weekend with what we have knowing we have enough to get off to a good start.

“I will be trying to (sign players) all season. Everyone gets so wound up about the transfer window. The loan market opens when the market shuts and everyone dips in.”

It is Hartlepool United in a nutshell – a steady manager perfectly out of synch with his rollercoaster team. Whatever 2014-15 holds for the Teessiders, it is unlikely to be boring.


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