Dave Jones knows Hartlepool United’s next two games will tell him a lot about his players – and give him an idea where Pools may finish.
Pools face back-to-back away days with two of League Two’s promotion contenders, starting with a trip to eighth-placed Mansfield Town tomorrow (kick-off 3pm).
The Stags are only two points shy of the play-offs and on Tuesday, Jones takes his side to Luton Town who are fifth and with aspirations of the automatic places.
It is the start of a tough period full stop – of the next six fixtures, five are against top 10 teams.
Jones, taking charge of his fourth game, knows the task is difficult but, despite being 18th, he will not rule anything out.
“Mansfield and Luton are both fighting to get out of the division,” said Jones. “We’re fighting to get out of the division too.
“We still have a slim possibility you know.
“We’ll hang on to that a long as we possibly can, until it’s mathematically impossible.”
Jones says he is looking forward to watching his team against two high-fliers and see how they match up.
He insists he will be demanding much from them.
“We’ll test the players, we’ll push them,” he explained. “We’ll see if they have taken on board what we are trying to do.
“We are not the biggest side, physically, but we have good players, technically, and I’ve said that before.
“If we can find the best way to get the use of that then there is no reason why this club can’t be a force.”
Mansfield are a team who have been transformed by Steve Evans in his two-and-a-bit months in charge at Field Mill.
When Adam Murray departed the club back in November after a poor run of one win in 11 games, the Stags sat in 18th place.
Now they are eighth and Jones says these are the games he relishes.
“We’ll go there full of confidence,” he said.
“We are up against a big, strong side who are pushing to get out of League Two.
“To be honest, I’d rather be in that type of game than playing someone fighting and scrapping to stay in the league.
“The games [against the better sides] are more enjoyable to be involved in.
“The players have a responsibility and I have a responsibility to see if we can force our way up that table.”
Jones is unlikely to deviate too far from the attack-minded side he sent out last week in the 1-1 draw against Yeovil.
Captain Billy Paynter (Achilles) and Michael Woods (ankle) are fighting to be fit, though tomorrow’s match may come too soon for the pair of them.
Nathan Thomas is closer to a return after getting an hour under his belt in midweek for the reserves against Mansfield’s second string at Bedford Terrace.
The 22-year-old has made two sub appearances ever since recovering from surgery on a groin injury but looked rusty on both occasions.
He will, however, be keen to play against his former club who he left in January last year to sign for Pools.
Pools (probable): Bartlett, Donnelly, Bates, Harrison, Kavanagh, Featherstone, Walker, Nelson, Amond, Alessandra, Rooney.
Subs: Fryer, Richardson, Martin, Hawkins, Smith, Oates, Thomas.