OUR season starts now.
That was the message from Neale Cooper today as he praised his players for their response to the League Cup humiliation at Crewe Alexandra.
Hartlepool United kicked off their League One campaign on Saturday with a deserved point against promotion-fancied Swindon Town, seven days after the 5-0 drubbing at Gresty Road.
Cooper had demanded better from his side going into the weekend curtain-raiser, and the Scot believes the character his men demonstrated can form the launch-pad for their season.
“This now gives us a very good platform going forward,” he said, in light of the goalless draw in which former Poolie Tommy Miller missed a second-half penalty for The Robins.
“It was a good response to last week and that’s what I was looking for.
“They all know how I felt about what happened at Crewe because it was completely unacceptable.
“I didn’t say much prior to the game because I didn’t have to.
“We let everyone down last week at Crewe and there was only one way to rectify it, and I think we did.
“I wanted a major reaction and I got it in a good performance which people will have enjoyed.”
Neale Cooper was able to joke about the concession of a penalty as well an injury scare to his star defender, served to highlight the relief of the Scot.
Seven days earlier he had fumed in the wake of the 5-0 pounding at Crewe Alexandra, not even a hint of his trademark grin on that occasion.
But, on Saturday, the smiles and quips were back.
He likened the sight of Peter Hartley pulling up with cramp to a contestant on It’s A Knockout attempting to run with an elastic band tied around their waist.
While Hartley’s handball which led to Swindon’s second-half spot-kick was “like an Olympic beach volleyball player going for a spike”.
Cooper, however, admitted that neither incident would have drawn jovial reflection had Tommy Miller not blazed over from 12 yards or Hartley’s injury been more serious.
But Pools had emerged with a point, and a worthy one at that.
Even on this, the opening day of the league campaign, there was a fair amount of pressure on those in blue and white.
Cooper, in his post-Crewe rage, had threatened them with the exit door – shape up or ship out his message.
“Reaction” was the buzz word at Maiden Castle last week, and you have to say the players were good to their pledge.
Led by skipper Sam Collins and the likes of man-of-the-match Andy Monkhouse, Pools were an altogether different proposition to the one which surrendered so meekly at Gresty Road.
Right from the off Swindon sought to inflict further pain on their wounded hosts and Scott Flinders was called into action twice inside the opening five minutes, saving from both Miller and Andy Williams after they had found the target from range.
But Pools survived the early onslaught with their target intact and, perhaps buoyed by the sight of 3.15pm arriving without double concession as it had done a week earlier, they took the game to the promotion-fancied visitors.
But the closest either side came to breaking the deadlock was just shy of the hour mark, Howard flashing Horwood’s teasing free-kick onto Foderingham’s post with the beaten keeper gratefully receiving the rebound into his grasp.
Then came the moment which threatened to undo all of Pools’ earlier resolve.
Ritchie’s cross appeared to wrong-foot the falling Hartley and the defender extended his arm to block – “no complaints” as Cooper later said of the decision.
But former Pools favourite Miller, on his league debut for The Robins, lashed over the crossbar.
Hartlepool United: Flinders, Austin, Collins, Horwood, Hartley (Baldwin), Franks (Luscombe), Walton, Monkhouse, Sweeney, Poole (James), Howard. Subs: Holden, Humphreys, Murray, Nish.
Swindon Town: Foderingham, Archibald-Henville, McEveley, Devera, Navarro (Ferry), Ritchie, McCormack, Miller, Benson (Collins), Williams, De Vita (Rooney). Subs: Bedwell, Flint, Thompson, Risser.
Ref: Brown Att: 4,132.