Hartlepool United’s Cooper sets sights on crunch awayday

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COLIN Cooper labelled Hartlepool United’s demolition of Bristol Rovers as the best yet – and called on his side to maintain their League Two play-off push.

Beaming Cooper was delighted with his outstanding players and said the forward play “excited him”, while the rearguard managed their fifth consecutive clean sheet on home soil.

Asked whether it was the best overall performance of the season, Cooper said: “Yes, you could say that.

“The thing that pleased me was I had watched Bristol Rovers play and, if I’m brutally honest, I was concerned the shape we play might have had us struggling on the flanks.

“But because we started so well and dominated possession, our shape was better than Bristol’s.

“We were very good and the goals were all really well made goals as well.”

Cooper was not only delighted with the three points and the performance, but he said it “sends out a message” to the rest of the play-off contenders.

Pools take on sixth-placed Oxford United away on Friday night and he wants to see the home form repeated away from Victoria Park.

“We have managed to do our job on Saturday,” said the manager. “The next nine games will be just as difficult as every other game we have played this season – but we are more than capable of giving anybody a game.

“My challenge is when was the last time we went away from home and put on a real show?

“Against a team in the play-offs, that is our next challenge and then we will see what happens.”

It took just 58 seconds for Pools to take the lead, with Marlon Harewood heading home after Luke James had flicked on a Jack Barmby corner.

Rovers never recovered, and fell further behind to Brad Walker’s 15th-minute rocket from 25 yards.

The 17-year-old central midfielder, who won the League Two apprentice of the year award at last night’s Football League awards, took a touch from a Barmby pass before unleashing an unstoppable curling shot past the hapless Steve Mildenhall.

Pools made it three after 56 minutes after Harewood was bundled over by Mark McChrystal in the penalty area.

Regular penalty-taker Simon Walton had to wrestle the ball off Harewood before coolly slotting it home to make it 3-0.

The fourth goal came a minute from time with Jon Franks firing high into the net after a Luke James shot had hit the post and rebounded to him.

Hartlepool: Flinders, Richards, Collins, Burgess, Holden, Walton, Walker (Hawkins 79), Monkhouse (Compton 15), Barmby, Harewood (Franks 64), James. Subs Not Used: Poole, Rafferty, Sweeney, Rowbotham. Goals: Harewood 2, Walker 16, Walton 56 pen, Franks 90.

Bristol Rovers: Mildenhall, Smith, Woodards (Clarke 75), Parkes, Clarkson (Santos 57), Harrold, Brown, Clucas (Beardsley 57), McChrystal, O’Toole, Mohamed. Subs Not Used: Gillespie, Harrison, Gough, Lockyer. Booked: Parkes.

Att: 3,480. Ref: Seb Stockbridge (Tyne & Wear).