COLIN Cooper admits places in his Hartlepool United team are very much “up for grabs” all over the pitch.
The Pools manager has now urged his squad to stake their individual claims for a starting position in the final weeks before the Sky Bet League Two opener at Stevenage on August 9.
In Wednesday night’s 3-0 friendly defeat to Sunderland, Cooper named arguably his strongest available starting line-up – with the majority of the team given the full 90 minutes.
But Cooper – who hopes to add some new permanent and loan signings over the coming weeks – has stressed his plans for Stevenage are not nailed down yet, with places up for grabs.
Pools started with Scott Flinders in goal, Michael Duckworth, Matthew Bates, Neil Austin and Darren Holden across the back four, with Tommy Miller, Brad Walker, Jack Compton and Stuart Parnaby in midfield.
Up top were Marlon Harewood and last season’s top scorer, Luke James.
Cooper, though, insists it is all to “play for” in the final two weeks of pre-season, with games against Whitby Town away tomorrow, Middlesbrough at home July 30 and Bradford City away next Saturday.
“There are places up for grabs all over the pitch,” Cooper said.
“The players still have to grasp the nettle and crack on.
“I would suggest many people would pick four or five players certain to start against Stevenage and that wouldn’t be too far off.
“Many people would have different perspectives on another four or five though, and I accept that.
“There is still plenty to play for in the coming weeks.”
Pools are clearly in need of strength in depth.
Cooper has previously said he is looking to add more experience to his squad, especially in midfield and that could well come in the shape of former Pools and Sunderland midfielder Miller, who played the full game against Gus Poyet’s side as he continues to train with the club.
On the transfer front, Cooper has called for patience and insists work is going on behind the scenes to add new faces, hopefully sooner rather than later.
He added: “I am looking to improve what we have got and we might see something in a week’s time that we know will benefit the club and if that deal can be done we’ll do it.
“It might take three weeks, it might even take four weeks, but we have to get the right ones and not just get people in for the sake of it.
“I am being asked a million questions by a million agents, but it is about finding the right players to benefit us.
“I don’t want to spend the chairman’s money if I don’t think they are the right one.”
Two players that weren’t the right fit for Pools were midfielder Eugen Bopp and defender Biko Bradnock-Brennan.
Cooper decided against offering the trialists contracts earlier this week after spending the past few weeks training at the club.
Speaking after the Sunderland defeat, Cooper praised their attitude and work-rate but said they hadn’t done enough to warrant a contract.
Cooper added: “Biko was slightly different as he had an option to go back and do his senior year at Charlotte University in America.
“Eugen, I thought, looked like a player that had been out of football for a while.
“He wanted an answer and I told him after the Bradford Park Avenue match that I couldn’t commit to him.
“I think he is a great bloke. He worked hard and is a terrific professional, but if you are going to bring people in they have to be better than what you have already got.
“I didn’t think Eugen fitted that bill at this moment in time.
“You invite people in to have a look at them and when they work hard and give it everything then it is difficult to then turn round and say ‘afraid not’.
“But I have to be honest to myself and Hartlepool and try and bring in players that are going to make us better.
“That is the job I have and it will continue between now and Stevenage and until the end of August, when the transfer window closes.”