HARTLEPOOL United boss Colin Cooper faces a tactical and selection dilemma ahead of tomorrow’s visit to League Two form side Mansfield Town, writes ROY KELLY.
His side has picked itself for the last three Saturdays when Cooper has sent out an unchanged XI in his favoured 4-4-2 formation.
But newly-promoted Mansfield operate a 3-5-2 system and operate it highly effectively as an unbeaten run of eight games proves.
Cooper will finalise his approach at training, but admits there could be a switch in approach.
The Stags are renowned as a strong and at-times direct side so Cooper could add Sam Collins to young central defenders Jack Baldwin and Christian Burgess.
Cooper explained: “I have been mulling it over all week because Mansfield play the system they do.
“Do we stick with what we do? Or do we change ever so slightly?
“We will have it all in place today to make sure people know what is expected of them tomorrow.
“I like to all to be laid out for the players so get everyone prepared in their heads.”
Collins has been forced top watch from the bench this season, however, the veteran centre-back remains very much part of Cooper’s plans and he was used as a second-half sub against Accrington and Bristol Rovers – two of Pools’ best results of the campaign.
Cooper also has the option of using Neil Austin as one of the three central defenders.
There is much to ponder for the Pools boss who is likely to start with James Poole up front after his superb performance against Oxford last week.
Cooper faces some difficult choices should he match up the Stags’ 3-5-2 approach.
Given Michael Duckworth’s good forward runs last week and defensive solidity, he will remain down the right.
If Duckworth gets the nod, Cooper must decide whether to keep Jack Compton on the left.
That would then probably leave Simon Walton and Matty Dolan as the central midfield combination, with Poole in the hole behind Andy Monkhouse and Luke James.
Of course, Cooper could stick with his tried and trusted method – Pools created eight chances at Bristol Rovers in their last away game and that was with a 4-4-2 line-up.
The only other possible selection poser for Cooper is on the bench, where goalkeeper cover could be an issue.
A groin problem ruled Andy Rafferty out of the reserve-team game on Wednesday. The 25-year-old is in the care of the healing hands of physio Ian Gallagher and should be fit to take his place as one of the seven subs.
Should he miss out, there could be a place for goalkeeping coach Jim Provett, who last made a first-team appearance in the 2006-07 promotion season.
Cooper added: “Mansfield are on a roll and it’s up to us to be compact, nullify what they throw at us.
“Hopefully we will get chances to create them problems, but we must be hard to beat to give us a chance to get something out of the game.”
MANSFIELD (probable): Marriott, Sutton, Dempster, Tafazolli, Howell, Jennings, Beevers, Hutchinson, McGuire, Clucas, Andrew. Subs: Murtagh, Daniel, Rhead, Stevenson, Speight, Meikle, Palmer
HARTLEPOOL (from): Flinders, Duckworth, Baldwin, Burgess, Collins, Austin, Franks, Walton, Dolan, Compton, James, Monkhouse, Poole, Rodney, Rafferty, Holden, Richards.