A detailed look at tomorrow's opposition
After losing their undefeated record at home to Dagenham and Redbridge on Tuesday evening Bristol Rovers travel to Hartlepool looking to close the gap at the top of the table.
Although the gap between the two teams is four points it represents six positions, such is the crush in mid-table.
Whilst Rovers were going down to the Daggers on Tuesday the Monkey Hangers were in a dour goalless draw with Accrington. The North Easterners had the better chances early on but Simon Walton could not test keeper Marcus Bettinelli with two long-range shots.
Lee Molyneux fired a 20-yard free-kick over the crossbar and Josh Windass also had two fierce efforts fly narrowly over for the hosts. Stanley substitute Kai Naismith had a chance from six yards but it rolled harmlessly into Scott Flinders' hands.
Speaking after the game United manager Colin Cooper noted: "There was a lack of quality in the final third from both sides. Neither goalkeeper had to make a save because the defenders did a good job.
"I asked our 'wrigglers' as I call them, and by that I mean the players who can get the ball out of their feet and sneak a shot away, to test their keeper. But we couldn't quite do it today unfortunately.
“I’m not disappointed because the last two away games we’ve lost so my challenge tonight was worst case we come away with something, worst case scenario we keep a clean sheet and then let’s see. I thought as the game went on I fancied us to nick one but it didn’t quite happen and I think James (Beattie) will probably feel the same.”
“To be fair Dean Winnard and Tom Aldred have been very solid. My report from Saturday against Chesterfield is that they were outstanding, but I thought my two centre backs were very good tonight as well.
"Maybe a pat on the back for the organisation of both teams and maybe on the night, not enough quality in the final third from both teams. I would suggest it was a pretty fair point.”
Cooper is looking to his team to kick-start their push for the top seven after two away games with just one point. Victoria Park has been a fortress for Cooper’s team in recent weeks with four clean sheets in a row against York City, Scunthorpe United, Newport County and Torquay United where they had three wins and a draw.
Cooper said: “I am looking forward to getting back to The Vic after a busy week on the road, if I’m honest. On Saturday we came away very disappointed from Wycombe, with not enough help from the officials.
“Then on Tuesday, the game ebbed and flowed either way, with both sides managing to get a point, which probably helps neither of us in our quest to do what we want to do. I am looking forward to getting back but only if we go with a real positive attitude.
“We are now at the point where if we are to close the gap then we have to start winning games and the first challenge is to beat Bristol Rovers on Saturday.”
Cooper is expecting another tough match on Saturday, “When we started this little run of matches against Northampton, Torquay, Wycombe Wanderers, Accrington Stanley and Bristol Rovers - they were five out of the bottom six. Bristol Rovers now are on our tail and they, like Accrington and Wycombe, have managed to put a good run together at the right time.
“The one thing we know from playing them earlier in the season is we are going to have to be on the front foot. We will have to be as dogged and determined as we were against Accrington and we will be doing our preparation to look to see what weaknesses we can exploit and to get the right people in the right areas in order to do that.”
The first meeting between the two teams surprisingly for club’s that have been in existence for so long, didn’t take place until the 1961/62 season, a League Cup game which Rovers won 2-1.
Matches between the teams were almost invariably low scoring. However in the last six games there have been 18 goals with two of the games finishing 2-2, which was the result the last time this fixture was played on 23 October 2010.
Pool’s Simon Walton says he is happy to see young players flourish this season with 19-year-old Luke James in particular grabbing the headlines after netting 14 goals: “It is refreshing to see the young lads express themselves though without the pressure and the gaffer takes a massive hand in letting the young players flourish and to give them that game time.”
Leeds-born Walton is one of the elder statesmen of the Pools squad despite being only 26 and he is enjoying playing alongside the younger players, with 17-year-old Brad Walker his regular central midfield partner.
“I can learn off the younger players as they can learn off us,” said the former Leeds United midfielder. "The old saying about young legs, sometimes we need them. It is one of the best set of young players that I have ever been involved in.
“There are five or six that could easily go on to bigger and better things and as long as they are willing to learn and to keep going they will be fine. Inconsistency is a thing with young players but luckily for us most of them have stepped up this season when needed and are thriving.
"The more games you get, the better they are going to be and it is enjoyable watching the young players come on.
“I have enjoyed the recent spell of matches I’ve played. Since Matty [Dolan] went back I have got my chance to get back in the team and the gaffer thinks I have grasped it with two hands.
Written by Gerry Prewett