COLIN Cooper believes hard work on the training ground has helped his Hartlepool United team tighten up defensively with three clean sheets in the last four matches.
But the 46-year-old has called on his young full-backs to keep their focus for the full 90 minutes and not get caught ball-watching.
Left-back Darren Holden, 20, and right-back Jordan Richards, also 20, were part of the back four in the 2-0 win at Dagenham & Redbridge last weekend, managing in the main to keep dangerous wingers Zavon Hines and Medy Elito at bay.
While Cooper was delighted to hold firm for back-to-back clean sheets, the Victoria Park chief wants his young defenders to keep a closer eye on the opposition, who at times breached the back four.
“That is three out of four clean sheets now, which is good,” said Cooper.
“We were all very disappointed in the way we conceded the goals at Wimbledon, but sometimes lady luck shines on you if you do a bit of work.
“We have been doing some work and there was an obvious threat against Dagenham in their two wide men.
“Zavon Hines, in particular, is a terrific young footballer and showed that in flashes at the weekend.
“We did a bit of work on the full backs and it is important for our young full-backs to learn the lessons of making sure they are not ball watching and letting wide men disappear off the back shoulders.
“That happened on either side, once in the first half and once in the second.
“Once wide men get in off your back shoulder the rest of the back four are in trouble and that is a learning curve for them.”
Holden has been deputising for Neil Austin at left-back, with the captain moved across to the right-back berth in place of the injured Michael Duckworth, who is close to returning after a double hernia operation.
But then Austin picked up a toe injury in the goalless draw with Scunthorpe, which paved the way for Wearsider Richards to return to the starting XI for the Daggers game after serving a three-match ban after a straight red card against Fleetwood.
Overall though, Cooper has been pleased with the efforts of his defenders in recent matches and insists the longer they keep the opposition at bay, the better chance Pools have of securing all three points.
“It is nice to keep a clean sheet,” he added.
“If you are stubborn and put your bodies on the line and get a bit of luck as well, then we will create something in every game.
“Whether we keep a clean sheet and it is 0-0, like against Scunthorpe United, where their keeper Sam Slocombe made three fantastic saves to keep them in the game, or we go on to win.
“The more we can keep our end zero, the more we will win, because we will create chances in every game. Fact.”