HARTLEPOOL United boss Colin Cooper is demanding his side get back to winning ways against Mansfield Town tonight and close the gap on the League Two play-offs.
The 1-0 defeat at Oxford United on Friday night saw Pools drop to 11th with 49 points, seven points off Southend United in seventh.
With only eight games of the season left, time is running out for Pools yet Cooper is remaining positive ahead of the Stags’ visit.
In the corresponding fixture in October, Pools ran out 4-1 winners with stunning strikes from Andy Monkhouse, James Poole and a Jack Compton double.
That dominant away result sparked a run of four consecutive league wins and Cooper will be hoping for the same again tonight.
It is the first of back-to-back home matches, with Cheltenham Town the visitors on Saturday, and it presents another opportunity to close the gap on the top seven.
Cooper said: “We are more than a match for any team in this league when we believe and have the confidence to go and do what we want to do.
“On Friday there were one or two of our players looking a bit passive but the lads have been great overall.
“We were just a little bit short - not in too many areas but in the decisive areas.
“We have two home games this week and the matches are two more opportunities.”
Cooper will tonight be missing the injured pair of Andy Monkhouse, out for at least a month with a hamstring strain, and Neil Austin, out for the season with an ongoing toe injury.
Michael Duckworth, who returned from a soft tissue injury to make the bench at Oxford, is in contention for a start.
Meanwhile, Simon Walton is suspended for the match after seeing red on Friday for two yellow cards.
Cooper was disappointed with Walton’s dismissal, while Jack Compton also gave away a rash foul for the free-kick that led to David Connolly heading the winner.
Cooper added: “If you have a lunge at someone or go off your feet, you are gambling and that is what we have to avoid.
“Young players have to learn lessons but Jack and Simon are not young players.
“Jack is 25, Simon is 26, they are not young players any more – but, unfortunately, even at 36 the red mist still descended on me from time to time!”
Manchester United forward Jack Barmby’s loan spell at Pools comes to an end after tonight, with Cooper expected to try to arrange a new deal.