COLIN Cooper has challenged his Hartlepool United players to finish the season strongly if they want to stay at the club next season.
Cooper’s men lost 1-0 to visitors Cheltenham Town in Sky Bet League Two on Saturday, thanks to a 74th-minute Jermaine McGlashan finish.
It was their third defeat in eight days and saw Pools drop to 13th place, now 10 points off the top seven with six matches left to play, leaving their hopes of a play-off spot to be slim – at best.
Pools, who at times were sloppy and slow in possession, had enough chances to get something from the game – with 14 attempts at goal, but only five of those were on target.
The manager admitted afterwards that his players were a bit short, with the younger ones in particular, feeling the affects of a gruelling season.
But Cooper has challenged his team to finish strongly, not to let it drift, otherwise there will be consequences.
The 47-year-old said: “The challenge to the players is there are six games to finish as high as they can.
“Loan players Jack (Barmby) and Christian (Burgess) are different, but the challenge to the rest is to show me you are desperate to be here next season.
“I am planning and thinking about it, and have been for a while.
“The challenge to everybody in the dressing room is I have some decisions to make and if you want to be here, then understand where we are at the moment because we have been found slightly wanting.
“I don’t want to be huffing and puffing next year.
“The challenge is not to finish in the bottom half of the league because we are better than that.
“At this moment in time, we are 13th, but we are more than capable of getting up to eighth or ninth.
“If they don’t get up there do I need to think about the type of people that are here next year? Because that isn’t good enough for me.
“There are all sorts of things to consider moving forward.”
Pools were hit by a sucker-punch for the winner in the 74th minute.
Cheltenham’s McGlashan sneaked in at the far post to evade both Sam Collins and Darren Holden to slide in a Sido Jombati deep cross past keeper Scott Flinders.
Despite a late period of pressure, Pools they were unable to get back on level terms
Their afternoon was summed up with just a few minutes to go when a goal-bound Christian Burgess effort was blocked by the head of team-mate Luke James, leaving the teenager dazed on the floor.
HARTLEPOOL: Flinders, Duckworth, Collins, Burgess, Holden, Walton, Walker (Hawkins 82), Compton, Barmby (Poole 58), Franks (Rutherford 84), James. Subs not used: Rafferty, Rowbotham, Richards, Jones. Booked: Barmby.
CHELTENHAM: S Brown, T Brown, Deering, Harrison (Gornell 90), McGlashan, Richards, Jombati, Noble (Taylor 87), Ihiekwe, Brundle, Daniels. Subs not used: Cureton, Roberts, Kotwica, Vincent, Braham-Barrett. Booked: Brundle. Goal: McGlashan 74.
Att: 3,328. Ref: Graham Salisbury (Lancs)