HARTLEPOOL boss John Hughes insists that nothing less than a win will do at Portsmouth tomorrow – labelling it the start of a “19-game season”, writes Craig Hope.
Pompey, who still have the threat of a 10-point deduction hanging over them as a result of their financial plight, are eight points clear of Pools going into the game.
The Hampshire-club reside just one place above Pools at the wrong end of League One and Hughes has set his sights of reeling in Guy Whittingham’s men, who they also face at the Vic next month.
“It’s a double-header against Portsmouth and we have to catch them – make no mistake we have to win this, that’s it,” he said.
“You have to look up and deal with expectations, know what’s at stake, go there and win. We must have that mindset to win.
“The away form has been positive and we have showed character away from home.”
All five of Hughes’ points in the Pools hotseat have come on the road, but he’s suffered five straight defeats at Victoria Park. The gap to safety currently stands at 12 points with 57 to play for.
And Hughes says there is still time to save the season.
“There’s 19 games to go and it’s about results to stay up – it’s a 19-game league for us now,” the Scot continued.
“We have enough games to come – let’s finish top of that mini league.”
Portsmouth have not played since a 2-0 defeat at Walsall on January 4.
In that time they have lost six players – Mustapha Dumbuya, Jon Harley, Brian Howard, Lubomir Michalik, Luke Rogers and Lee Williamson – but have added Crawley Town’s Shaun Cooper.
And Hughes admits their rapid turnover of playing personnel makes preparations difficult.
“Portsmouth is a fantastic club with great history and I feel for them,” he said. “But I don’t know what kind of team we will be facing – there’s been that many comings and goings.”
Hughes, who has Steve Howard, Jordan Richards and Tony Sweeney all ruled out with injuries, could push midfielder Simon Walton into a more attacking role.
“Simon can get on the ball and run the show playing the quarterback role he is at the moment,” added Hughes. “But can he move up and go box to box? He might have to do it this weekend if we change shape.”
Charlie Wyke is set to be pushed forward as a straight replacement for centre-forward Howard.
That could see Walton deployed in a central role in front of midfield pair Ritchie Humphreys and Jack Baldwin.