COLIN Cooper and Craig Hignett are facing a selection dilemma ahead of tomorrow’s vital Sky Bet League Two clash with Burton Albion.
Hartlepool United’s coaches must decide what they do with attacking talents Luke James and James Poole.
Neither have started the last two games – a 2-2 draw at Cheltenham and a heartbreaking 2-1 defeat at Coventry City in their FA Cup second round replay.
James has been something of a talisman this season and reached double figures by November 23, though has not scored since.
Poole, after finding himself on the bench in the early weeks of the season, regained his place, providing a great link between James and the midfield.
Assistant boss Hignett believes the gifted duo will benefit from being “taken out of the firing line” and will be refreshed and ready when called upon again.
Jonathan Franks played up front at Cheltenham where he was in stunning form with both goals and was unlucky not to get a first Pools hat-trick.
“We took James and Luke out of the firing line,” said Hignett.
“We’ve got a few games coming up,
“Luke has played 12 games on the bounce, the most he’s played in his career and the last couple he’s been battered and bumped so we tried to freshen him up as he looked a bit tired.
“Jonny Franks wanted to play up front and in training he’s looked sharp.
“We gave him a go at Cheltenham and scored twice.
“From James Poole’s point of view, he’s been carrying a couple of knocks, and didn’t quite look himself.
“James had a limited impact in a couple of games, so we gave him a rest and let things settle down.
“Teams watch us and know what he does and teams will try to counteract him.
“As long as they are both fresh and fit and ready then it’s job done.
“There are a lot of games coming up on the spin.”
After tomorrow’s final home game of 2013, Pools are faced with a difficult run of three games inside seven days.
Hignett was giving little away in terms of team selection but, given last week’s Franks double, James may not feature again in the starting XI until Boxing Day’s visit to Chesterfield.
But the assistant boss explained that he and Cooper are thrilled with the teen sensation.
“Luke has 10 goals,” said Hignett,
“I’m sure he lulls people into a false sense of security as he only looks like a kid.
“But the impact he has, and the effort he puts in, is incredible really.
“He is high energy and it will take a toll.
“A run of games of doing that week-in, week-out will take it out of you.
“He has looked a bit jaded, but he’s been fantastic for us and anything we can do to get the best out of him we will.
“I’m really pleased with how we are attacking teams now.
“There was a problem at the start of the season with us having a run of not scoring, so me and the gaffer have worked on it.
“We put the principles down of what we want – passing the ball, where and when we want to pass it.
“We have improved in the final third and look dangerous.
“When we go a goal behind now I don’t get worried and I know we will come back and keep going the whole game.
“That, coupled with how we are trying to play and do things, I will always fancy us to score.”
Brad Walker, after an excellent performance at Sixfields on Tuesday, could continue in the role between Franks and the midfield.
HARTLEPOOL (probable): Flinders, Duckworth, Baldwin, Burgess, Austin, Compton, Dolan, Walton, Walker, Monkhouse, Franks. Subs: Rafferty, Collins, Holden, Sweeney, Poole, James, Rodney