"We want a strong promotion push" - Assistant manager Cooper on the year ahead at FC Halifax Town

Every now and then, Andy Cooper looks at the suit he wore for the FA Trophy final in May and allows himself a moment to dream.
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For The Shaymen to appear at Wembley 12 months on, they'll need to reach the National League play-off final, which looks their only route to promotion with Chesterfield already the runaway league leaders.

Some Town fans would scoff at the idea of their side contesting the final game for the second promotion place into League Two come the end of the season, but Cooper insists that is the aim.

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"We want a strong play-off push, we want a strong promotion push," says the assistant manager when asked what his ambitions are for the year ahead.

Andy CooperAndy Cooper
Andy Cooper

"We go into the second round of fixtures with some really strong performances behind us, we've got players coming back from injury.

"Try to kick on, be more consistent with performances to get results and keep us up there in the area of the play-offs to have a really good run at it.

"We're more than capable. We know we're punching massively above our weight.

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"You've got to keep an eye out for competitors because we know they can dip into the transfer market and bring players in at the turn of the year and strengthen, that's probably not something we're in the position to do.

FC Halifax TownFC Halifax Town
FC Halifax Town

"But we've just got to keep grafting and working, keep executing the game-plans and keep up there.

"We know we can be there or thereabouts, we've gone toe-to-toe with everyone in the league and we're not really disappointed with what we've been able to produce, we've just got to back it up.

"We saw what happens when you get those consistent performances with the four wins in a row, you can absolutely fly up the league and that's what we've got to do, keep picking up those wins and turning any losses into draws at worst, making sure we're still in the hunt come the business end, the last 10 games of the season."

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Town have only sporadically played to their absolute best so far this season, and Cooper believes there is more to come from them in 2024.

"I think some lads who are coming back from injuries or who have had stop-start seasons so far have got real quality," he says.

"You look at Flo Hoti as an example, through no fault of his own he's not really been able to get going.

"A tackle in a game pops his shoulder out and now he's got to get rehab and get back into playing but I'd be confident of saying he showed glimpses of what he can do and I think the fans have seen that.

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"Players like him and multiple others, we want to see them getting better with a run of games.

"You see the impact Luke Summerfield has with a consistent run of games.

"There still growth and there's a real togetherness forming in the group that, when there will be bumps in the road or injuries or suspensions, we've got players knocking on the door.

"We've probably got a more competitive squad at this stage, going into the next run of games, because the lads coming back from injury are really pushing for starting places.

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"We've not always had a huge amount of depth on the bench due to injuries but we go into the New Year with a lot more depth and being able to try and kick on now."

Cooper feels there is little improvement to be made defensively from Town - who have the best defensive record in the division - but accepts more needs to be produced in attack.

"We need to be more focused on us and what we want to do," Cooper says, "so at home we want to try and get more bodies in the box, create more and score more goals, that's a given for us.

"We have to then keep balancing that off with making sure that we don't do that at the risk of leaving ourselves exposed at the back.

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"We have the best defensive record for a reason and the stats show that when we change shape and have more attacking bodies, we are at risk of conceding more goals.

"That might be a case where there are moments and oppositions where it's worth doing that, but take Gateshead away recently, we went into that with a clear idea of who we are, what will get a result and what areas of the pitch we want to try and win the ball back in and we executed it really well.

"Now that isn't always the case.

"Away from home, on certain days, we'll be a team that is hard to beat, well organised, we'll try and get bodies into the box when we win it back, but with the types of bodies coming back from injury, there are players there who can help us have more possession at home, try and play with more attacking threat, get more bodies in the box and work on big moments in games like set-pieces and deliveries."

Development off-the-pitch is on the agenda too. It has to be at a club like Halifax, where resources are limited and forward-planning is essential.

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"That never really stops for us as a staff and the recruitment team," Cooper says.

"Over the last week or two, each of us will have been at a National League North or an NPL game.

"The first thing we try and do when a game is postponed is go and find another game to watch where we have players of interest.

"It just evolves and keeps going because you never know - there might be a player moving on in January, does that player need replacing? Do we have a like-for-like in the building? Do we need to bring the next young player through to get the experience to be ready for next season?

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"You've always got mapping out of players and we have a document with a list of players we're tracking and monitoring around the leagues that might be of interest.

"Then when we know where we are with the current squad and who's extending their deals, who we're unable to retain, we can then act on that to bring a balanced squad together.

"It never stops, it just constantly gets updated because we're always looking at games, we've always got people out monitoring and also we're obviously sending our younger lads out as well to get experience and see how they cope with the demands of first-team football.

"We've got a good handle of what goes on in the area, we've got good relationships with some of the bigger clubs around Yorkshire that have academy players who come out at the age of 19, 20, 21 and we've been successful in developing some of them.

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"We continue to evolve that process throughout the season so it doesn't get to the stage where you leave on the last day of the season, everyone shakes hands and then you don't know who's coming back the next season.

"Although a lot of football is unpredictable, we try to be as well-planned as we can to make sure we don't leave ourselves short.

"We get gazumped by some of the bigger boys in the league, that's just how it is, but we back ourselves to develop players who come in and give them an opportunity, and that's what players will always get with us."

As for what the fans will get in 2024, Cooper pledges Town will be an honest, organised and hard-working group that are desperate to do well, "desperate to represent the town and the shirt and to have a real strong play-off push".

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"We'll be competitive in all games, we'll fight and go to the end in all games," he says.

"I think we've seen it over the first-half of the season and there's more to come.

"There is growth in the team, players will get better.

"There'll be tough times and bumps in the road, like there is in any league season, but from our group you'll still get an honest, energetic and hard-working team that will absolutely put a shift in to hopefully get us a successful finish to the season."

And a return to Wembley one year on?

"I've kept the suit just in case!," says Cooper.

"It was dry-cleaned and I've kept it in a prominent place ready.

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"Occasionally it does catch my eye when I'm in the wardrobe and I do look and think 'I hope this goes on again'.

"It'd be unbelievable, it would be the cumulation of a lot of hard work and it's something we're desperate to do.

"We'll be doing everything we can to continue putting a shift in, trying to get the club there and make sure we give it our best shot.

"The challenge is tough, the structure of the play-offs isn't hugely favourable to the National League compared to the EFL and many people agree it should be restructured.

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"We know it's tough but we've got to put ourselves in the mix and then when we're in there, there's no-one really that we haven't had a really good go at this season and in many cases, come up trumps against."