JOHN Hughes will not talk about survival until Hartlepool United snap out of their losing streak – but the new boss has already seen improvement during his first week at the helm.
Pools lost at home to Oldham Athletic last night to extend their winless run to 18 matches and condemn them to a fifth straight defeat.
Hughes’ first game in charge was Saturday’s 5-0 hammering at the hands of Coventry City – like Oldham, a relegation rival.
That pair of results has left Pools 10 points adrift of safety at the bottom of League One with the halfway-stage of the campaign just around the corner.
But Hughes insists that he has seen his influence wear off on the players over the course of the past week.
“I asked for improvement and that’s what I got,” said the Scot, whose side suffered stoppage-time heartache when Jose Baxter turned home the rebound from his own missed penalty.
“It was cruel on the lads. We put so much into it and were spirited.
“It was much more solid and we tried to pass the ball in parts. We created chances and scored a goal – even that is an improvement.
“We didn’t go under when we conceded, it galvanised us.
“So although it’s hard to be too optimistic in defeat, there were positives.”
Pools started the game brightly and Steve Howard came within a lick of paint of opening the scoring when his glancing header, from Ritchie Humphreys’ in-swinging delivery, cracked the base of the visiting post on seven minutes.
But that confident opening counted for nothing as an individual error proved their undoing on 17 minutes.
Keeper Scott Flinders could have put his boot through a routine back-pass but instead chose to roll short in the direction of a team-mate.
However, he only succeeded in finding Matt Derbyshire and he teed-up Jose Baxter for a simple tap-in.
With confidence having taken a battering, Pools saw Humphreys booked for a late slide on Connor Brown and Simon Walton succumb to injury midway through the half.
Pools started the second half well. Tony Sweeney nodded into the arms of keeper Bouzanis and Peter Hartley flashed a header wide of goal from Jon Franks’ teasing flag-kick.
The home side were in command and Franks found himself one-on-one with Bouzanis just after the hour mark, but the Oldham keeper spread his frame to block.
The keeper again thwarted the same player when he drove towards the bottom corner soon after but Sweeney was on hand to hammer the loose ball into the roof of the net for parity.
Pools lost Neil Austin to a straight red card 14 minutes from time following a high lunge on James Wesolowksi.
Youssouf M’Changama then headed against the upright before Jack Baldwin’s handball presented the visitors with an injury-time penalty.
Flinders guessed right and blocked Baxter’s low strike, but the former Everton youngster followed up to hook into the gaping net.
Hartlepool: Flinders, Austin, Collins, Hartley, Horwood, Walton (Monkhouse 37), Murray (Noble 86), Sweeney, Franks (Baldwin 78), Howard, Humphreys. Subs Not Used: Foden, Poole, Wyke, Luscombe. Sent Off: Austin (76). Booked: Humphreys, Horwood. Goals: Sweeney 65.
Oldham: Bouzanis, Brown, Mvoto, Byrne, Wabara, Croft (Smith 70), Furman, Wesolowski (Sutherland 85), Montano (M’Changama 59), Derbyshire, Baxter. Subs Not Used: Cisak, Tarkowski, Winchester, Millar. Booked: Montano, Croft, Derbyshire, Baxter. Goals: Baxter 17,90.
Att: 3,078 Ref: Craig Pawson (South Yorkshire).