COLIN Cooper has called on his Hartlepool United side to show “no fear” in their bottom-of-the-table clash with Carlisle United.
Pools are languishing third from bottom in Sky Bet League Two just two places and two points above tomorrow’s visitors who prop up the Football League.
The manager and players may be playing it down but there is no doubting how massive the match at Victoria Park is (KO 3pm).
Calm Cooper has called on his side, who have won just two out of their opening 10 matches, to be fearless as they look to add to their eight points.
“Playing without fear isn’t easy, it’s easy to say it,” said Cooper.
“In certain positions it does take a lot of nerve to cross the white line and play without fear. As a player, I always used to think of worst-case scenarios and try to ensure they didn’t happen.
“As a creative player, a forward, you can play without fear – just be better than the defenders and if you score, you are a hero.
“So it’s easy for us to say it and when I say it to my players I mean it.
“If you are fearful then you don’t give yourself the opportunity to express yourself – as a defender, midfielder or forward.
“You inhibit yourself by playing with fear and you don’t allow yourself to express yourself with it.
“But all you can try and do is get belief and confidence – if the worst-case scenario happens then it’s on my shoulders as a manager and not yours as a player.
“No-one wants to make mistakes or miss a chance or do anything wrong but a lack of confidence shrinks you as a person.
“Sometimes the action is harder than words, but we can give them the confidence to try and lift them.”
New boss Keith Curle, being assisted by former Pools assistant manager Colin West, oversaw Carlisle’s first league win against Tranmere Rovers last weekend and they could be unchanged.
“Carlisle have a new manager and the one thing Keith is doing is lifting them,” added Cooper.
“It’s strange because how that happens in a group of people who have a habit of losing and then turn it around to win is staggering.
“I know it’s happened in football over the generations and it’s astounding that the same group of players get three points, when they couldn’t get a point before.
“But Keith, having played against him and knowing him, is a tough guy who will galvanise them and they won with a clean sheet last week, so he will think they are off and running.
“Our job is to try and bring them down to earth.
“Whatever happens in football, we are at home and need three points.”
Pools could be without left-winger Jack Compton, who went off after 44 minutes against Portsmouth with a calf/knee problem. Stuart Parnaby again misses out with a knee injury while on-loan Middlesbrough utility man David Atkinson is being assessed for a minor knock.
Cooper said: “Jack hasn’t trained and we have to wait on the results of his scan but he is touch and go.
“Stuart’s knee is ongoing but hopefully everyone else will be back on the training ground today.”
Tomorrow’s match could also see the return of midfielder Antony Sweeney to Victoria Park, if he shakes off a shoulder injury picked up against Mansfield Town a fortnight ago.
The 31-year-old midfielder left Pools in the summer after turning down the offer of a new contract to pen a two-year deal with the Cumbrians.
Stockton-born Sweeney made 444 appearances for Pools, scoring 62 goals but he found first team opportunities hard to come by under Cooper last season.
Cooper, though, will be giving Sweeney a warm welcome back to the Vic.
He added: “Antony will be awarded a warm welcome from me and I would hope from our fans after what he has given them.
“That is if he is fit, I understand he may be struggling but he is a great guy and was offered an opportunity to stay here.
“He chose something different but you can only wish him well.”
Pools (likely): Flinders, Duckworth, Bates, Harrison, Austin, Brobbel, Franks, Miller, Walker, Harewood, Wyke.
Subs (from): Woodman, Holden, Collins, Jones, Richards, Hawkins, Green, Atkinson,
Carlisle: Hanford, Grainger, White, Brough, Archibald-Henville, Potts, Thirlwell, Dicker, Beck, Amoo, Dempsey.