NEALE Cooper looks set to name an unchanged side at Crewe Alexandra tomorrow – challenging those in possession of a starting jersey to make sure they keep it.
The Scot, pictured, admits he would have “questioned himself” had he not rung the changes ahead of Tuesday’s visit of Sheffield United.
Cooper believes his decision to drop skipper Sam Collins – as well as regular left-back Evan Horwood and Sunderland loanee Craig Lynch – “sent a message” to the rest of the squad, prompting the spirited performance which, despite the 2-1 defeat, he labels “the best of the season so far”.
It now looks certain that recalled trio Darren Holden, Andy Monkhouse and James Poole will retain their place for the trip to Gresty Road, as Cooper said: “It’ll be a similar approach I think.
“We could go back to a 4-3-3, 4-5-1, but Stevie (Howard) needs support.
“We need to pick up more pieces around him because I thought he was excellent the other night.
“All over the park we were better and those boys deserve another chance.
“But if you get an opportunity then make sure you stay in the team.
“There has to be competition.”
Cooper had informed his dropped players on Monday that they would not be featuring against The Blades.
He explained: “I had to make changes and I think it sent a message to everyone.
“I’d have to question myself if I didn’t make changes.
“But I spoke to the lads first.
“I don’t like naming a team before a game and players not knowing if they’ve been left out.
“I speak to players when I need to and I think that’s right.
“But every player is different – some listen, and some don’t.
“I hope the lads who have been left out will prove to me they’re determined to get back in.”
Simon Walton (ankle) played for Pools’ reserves during the week and could return to the squad, while Howard will also be fit to feature despite missing some training sessions this week.
“We just try to protect Steve between games and you have to do that with older players,” Cooper said.
“It’s the same with Paul Murray at times, but they’re important players for us.”
POOLS (probable): Flinders; Austin, Hartley, Baldwin, Holden; Franks, Murray, Sweeney, Monkhouse; Howard, Poole: McHugh, Collins, Horwood, Lynch, James, Walton, Humphreys.