JOHN Hughes today hailed his “13 heroes” after seeing Hartlepool United reignite hope of League One survival.
Pools were valiant 3-1 winners at Portsmouth on Saturday to move to within 10 points of safety, the narrowest margin since the Scot’s arrival in November.
With 18 games remaining, Hughes hopes time does not run out on his side, and he is mindful of a recent home record which reads seven defeats from seven.
But the former Falkirk and Hibs manager believes the weekend triumph at the home of their relegation rivals is evidence that escaping the drop remains a possibility.
“It’s all about three points right now,” said Hughes, who had taken the step of declaring the trip to Fratton Park as “must win” on Friday.
“I can talk about all the other stuff like new players and styles of football, but right now it’s about winning matches and we’ve got 18 cup finals left.
“It’s all about digging it out and getting results.
“I just hope the games don’t run out.
“We’ve got seven points from nine away and that’s good form, but we need to sort things out at home if we’re going to stand any chance (of survival).”
Saturday’s victory was achieved thanks to goals from Jack Baldwin, James Poole and Greg Rutherford, the latter sealing the points in stoppage time after Pompey’s Jed Wallace had ensured a nervy finale with a fine finish 23 minutes from the end.
And Hughes added: “This was a terrific win – we showed great fight and we were resolute.
“Everyone played a part – we had 13 heroes out there.
“But since I’ve come in I’ve seen that in them. I’ve always said that you have to look for inspiration.
“We have to deal with the expectation and pressure and be a man and go and produce.
“They certainly did that as a team on Saturday.”
Teenager Rutherford looked cool when he slotted home the clincher three minutes into stoppage time after being sent free by Jonathan Franks, but that outward nonchalance belied his inner emotion.
At 18, and having just scored his first-ever goal, Rutherford admits he was anything but calm.
“It was just extraordinary that feeling when it hits the back of the net,” said the Whitley Bay-born youngster.
“The fans were jumping up and down and I ran straight for them, all the lads were on top of me before I knew it.
“It was just incredible – my head was buzzing.”
His first touch, he admits, was scruffy, but there was nothing untidy about the finish.
Rutherford recalled: “It got stuck under my feet at first, but I managed to get it out.
“The keeper came off his line and I saw the near post was open.
“I thought I might as well go for it.
“It all came off for me and it got us the win, I couldn’t wish for anything more.”
PORTSMOUTH: Eastwood, Cooper (Harris 63), Gyepes, Rocha, Butler, Wallace, Ertl (Moutaouakil 63), Russell, Reed (Sutherland 63), Connolly, Keene. Subs not used: Smith, Sodje, Walker, Webster. Goal: Wallace 67
HARTLEPOOL: Flinders, Austin, Collins, Hartley, Horwood, Walton, Franks, Baldwin (James 74), Humphreys, Wyke (Rutherford 90), Poole. Subs not used: McHugh, Monkhouse, Luscombe, Rowbotham, Holden. Goals: Baldwin 18, Poole 52, Rutherford 90
Ref: Darren Sheldrake (Surrey)