Hartlepool United’s Neale Cooper to give birthday boy James Poole a start

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NEALE Cooper looks set to start with birthday-boy James Poole against Oldham Athletic tonight as Hartlepool United bid to end a five-hour goal drought.

The striker, who turns 22 today, was a half-time introduction during Saturday’s goalless draw with Stevenage in League One having returned from a 10-day thigh absence.

It was Poole who scored his side’s last goal, marking his comeback from a two-month hamstring lay-off with a headed effort in the 1-1 draw with MK Dons on March 3.

Cooper’s boys have failed to find the back of the net since that game and the manager is growing increasingly concerned at his lack of fire power.

“I’ve said for a long time now that we need more of a threat up front,” he said. “It was the first thing I identified when I came in.

“We’ve got the makings of a very good side and we’ve got things together at the back now, our record shows that. We just need a lot more in attack because without goals you don’t win football matches.”

That will almost certainly mean the return of Poole to the starting line-up for the visit of the Latics, the side against which he scored the only goal in the reverse fixture on Boxing Day.

The identity of the player he replaces hinges on the fitness of Tony Sweeney after he suffered a blow to the head late in the game at the weekend.

The midfielder should, however, win his fitness race and that could mean Ritchie Humphreys, a starter in the last five matches, dropping down to the bench.

Luke James (back) remains sidelined, while Colin Nish (knee) will do well to figure again this season.