JOHN Hughes admits Hartlepool United will probably have to win their last six matches to avoid relegation to League Two, writes CRAIG HOPE.
That is the enormity of the task facing his side as they prepare for tomorrow’s Good Friday visit of MK Dons (kick-off 3pm).
Pools – without a goal in nine hours – are six points from League One safety heading into the Easter weekend, with a trip to Stevenage to follow on Monday.
But Hughes is clinging to the hope that football has proven itself to throw up all manner of surprises, and Pools escaping the drop zone would certainly register as a seismic shock.
“We have to go and try to win the last six games – and I think we might have to,” the Pools boss said today.
“I don’t think for one moment the boys have given up on it.
“We just need to keep them spirited and believing in themselves.
“We’re still giving ourselves a chance.
“The players have the opportunity to grab that chance, it’s up to them.
“There are a lot of strange results at this time of the season and with a little bit of lady luck anything can happen. Stranger things have happened in football.”
The Dons have seen their play-off ambitions fade since the clubs last met in December, the hosts 1-0 winners that day.
They are currently in 13th position, some 11 points shy of sixth place.
But Hughes still holds Karl Robinson’s men in the highest regard. “I’m surprised that MK Dons aren’t up there,” he said.
“We went down there and tried to play football but just could not get out of our own half.
“But they were far superior in terms of their football ability.
“That will come into our thinking tomorrow.
“We’ll also have to think about the weather and the conditions with Gateshead playing there during the week.
“The surface isn’t conducive to a great passing style of football.
“But the minimum I want to see is fight, desire and a bit of passion, do that and the fans will get right behind us I’m sure.”
H Jack Baldwin, 19, has recovered from what was at first feared a season-ending injury and will return to the squad tomorrow, with Hughes predicting a close-season comeback for the midfielder.
But Baldwin has surprised the club’s medical staff with his rapid rehabilitation and, after coming through 45 minutes of yesterday’s 4-0 reserve-team win over Rotherham, he should return to the bench against the Dons.
“It’s a massive turnaround for Jack,” Hughes said.
“As a young guy it’s possibly his first injury in football. His powers of recovery have been brilliant, he probably doesn’t know any other.
“I think we’ve missed him and that’s been evident.
“If there are no effects then he’ll come into our thinking tomorrow.”
Luke James plundered a 26-minute hat-trick for Pools’ second string, with Greg Rutherford also on target.
HARTLEPOOL (probable): Flinders; Austin, Hartley, Collins, Horwood; Franks, Sweeney, Walton, Monkhouse; Wyke, Poole. Subs: Rafferty, Baldwin, Humphreys, Howard, Luscombe, James, Holden