NEALE Cooper was “raging and could not even speak” to an overweight Nathan Luscombe after his return to pre-season training – but now it appears there is a future for him at Hartlepool United.
The Scot has challenged the talented midfielder to prove his worth – and lose weight – after watching him make a game-changing impact during last night’s 1-1 draw at Whitby Town.
Luscombe came from the bench to inject the “creative spark” Cooper has long been craving for, laying on the opener for Paul Murray and driving Pools forward at every opportunity.
However, the 22-year-old was left at home in the North East last week while the rest of the squad travelled to Holland for their summer tour.
Instead, he was put through a painstaking boot camp in a bid to shed the pounds he had previously promised Cooper he would not put on during the close-season.
There is still a lot of work to be done, insists the boss, but Luscombe will be encouraged by his manager’s words in the wake of his performance at the Turnbull Ground.
“I had a good, long chat with Nathan in my office on Tuesday and then again said something to him in the dressing room last night,” explained Cooper.
“He knows I wasn’t happy with him the way he came back after pre-season and he knew I was raging when he came back in that shape. I was absolutely raging and couldn’t even speak to him, I was that angry.
“But he came on last night and he was that bright, creative spark for me.
“He was one of the most exciting parts of the game, his movement off Steve Howard. He changed the game and that’s what he is capable of.”
Luscombe was arguably Pools’ best player in pre-season 12 months ago having joined on a free transfer from Sunderland earlier that summer.
He was in and out of the side during the first half of the season but fell out of favour under Cooper after failing to impress the new boss during his first few weeks in charge in January.
Now, though, the 48-year-old could be set to rethink his stance on the Gateshead-born star.
“I just want a reaction from him,” said Cooper. “I’ve been told he’s worked really hard in the boot camp when we were away.
“I told him after the game ‘you know you let me down, but if you can lose weight you can be a player and a part of this team’.
“I will not a hold a grudge, no chance, I’m not like that. But he promised he wouldn’t come back in the state he did. I don’t doubt Nathan’s ability and you get boys who are that shape.
“But if he eats right, trains well and makes the effort then he has every opportunity at this club.”
Whitby’s late leveller came when Sam Collins dwelt in possession and was robbed by Nathan Mulligan, the substitute then wriggling by the skipper before seeing his deflected shot escape the grasp of Scottish trialist keeper Adam McHugh.
Hartlepool: Flinders (McHugh 46), Baldwin (Richards 30), Collins, Johnson, Holden, James, Murray, Walton (Rowbotham 60), Humphreys, Howard, Nish (Luscombe 65).