Neale Cooper pins his faith in solid defence

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HARTLEPOOL United boss Neale Cooper says his blueprint for success will be built around his back five.

From the moment the Scot walked into Victoria Park he was impressed by the calibre of defender at the club.

He quickly established, however, that some of those individuals were under-performing and so got to work on lifting confidence levels which had been shattered by that run of nine straight home defeats.

The upshot has been back-to-back clean sheets for the first time since 2010, and Cooper believes his rearguard can be the cornerstone for a much-improved second half of the season.

“As soon as I came in I liked the defenders and the goalkeeper,” he said. “But then I heard that the poor home form was because we hadn’t been staying in games for long enough and were conceding bad goals.

“So you look at that and think ‘that’s something we can work on’.

“I’ve spoken to a couple of them individually and they admitted themselves that they hadn’t been up to scratch. But what we’ve seen the last two games is a massive improvement and two clean sheets, which means you’re guaranteed a return from the game.

“It’s then up to us to make something happen at the other end and that’s an area we can work on.”

Cooper has named the same back five of Scott Flinders, Neil Austin, Sam Collins, Peter Hartley and Evan Horwood for both the home victory over Rochdale and the weekend draw at Exeter City.

And, of that quintet, he went on: “Scott (Flinders) is a good size for a keeper and he’s got a good presence, I like that.

“The two centre-backs have got that presence as well. Peter Hartley is a winner, I really like his attitude and he has been immense the past couple of matches.

“Then you’ve got Big Sam who has come back in after a nasty foot injury and has been outstanding – that’s the sort of player you want in your team.

“And the two full-backs are very good players who probably hadn’t been as good as they should be recently. But I think they’ve both been very good these past couple of matches.”