HARTLEPOOL United must be strong and disciplined at Oxford tonight if they are to stay in the play-off picture.
That was the demand today from Colin Cooper as he takes his side to the Kassam Stadium for the proverbial promotion six-pointer.
Pools go into the sixth against 10th clash looking for a win to close the gap between them and the Us to just four points.
Cooper’s side ran riot last Saturday against Bristol Rovers, netting four times in a superb display.
But the Pools boss insists any success must be built on the team displaying their formidable defensive qualities before any flair comes int play.
“We are going to have to be at our very best to get anything, Oxford are a good side,” Cooper said.
“It’s not always about winning gloriously, it’s about doing the right things.
“We have players who can create chances and score.
“If we keep Oxford United to nil then at least we come home with something.
“And if we do keep them to nil, I’m pretty sure we can come back with 1-0 or a 2-0 or whatever.
“When you go away from home, you have to be solid.
“If we stay nice and compact we know that, at some point, we’ll get one, two or three chances, then it depends if we can take them.
“But we have to be strong and disciplined – if Oxford come out and blow us away then we have nowhere to go.
“If we can take every punch Oxford throw at us and then counter, there’s every chance of giving them a good game.”
Pools have kept back-to-back clean sheets, at Accrington then at home to Bristol Rovers.
And Cooper hopes to see that Pools rather than the one which threw away a one-goal lead at Wycombe to lose 2-1.
“We conceded disappointed goals at Wycombe, but that hasn’t happened too many times,” he explained.
After the 4-0 win over Rovers, Pools were just two points outside the top seven.
That gap grew to five in midweek after in-form Plymouth defeated promotion favourites Chesterfield.
Cooper, you suspect, would accept a draw tonight but is aware that victories are vital to the play-off cause.
“Plymouth have managed to bridge the gap by winning consecutive games,” he said, “That’s the way to do it.
“There are still plenty of points to play for.
“If you are looking at sixes and sevens (gaps), then you are may be a little too far away.
“All we can do is to go to Oxford and give it our best shot and make sure we are good enough to come away with something.
“Hopefully, we may be able to come home with everything.
“It won’t be the end of the world if we didn’t, but it would make things more difficult moving into the last eight games.”
Pools would appear to be playing Oxford at a good time.
They have gone six games without a win, having previously been on an eight-match unbeaten run in Sky Bet League Two.
The Us have seen boss Chris Wilder walk out to take over at Northampton and caretaker boss Mickey Lewis has selection issues at the back.
Tom Newey and Michael Raynes were sent off at Chesterfield and midfielder/ defender Johnny Mullins was stretchered off.
But Cooper said he would happily swap places with the Us.
“Oxford play nice football and will be slightly frustrated they aren’t in a stronger position than they are,” he said.
“But I would love to be in their place, defending the play-offs instead of chasing them.”