Dave Jones says his Hartlepool United players will “fight for their lives” for the final three games of the season.
Pools could find themselves in the Football League drop zone for the first time since March 2015, should they fail to beat Barnet at the Northern Gas & Power Stadium tomorrow (kick-off 3pm).
A win against the managerless Bees would keep Pools in 22nd place – no matter what Newport do against in-form Accrington at Rodney Parade.
Pools missed a glorious chance to put some space between themselves and the Welsh side when they lost at Leyton Orient on Monday, when County were shipping six goals at Plymouth.
“As stupid as it seems, we actually came out of Monday in a better position than when we started,” said Jones, who says that the Pools squad are desperate to make amends in front of their own fans.
“Football gives you another opportunity and we have to take that.
“Everyone was disappointed, and probably a little surprised [about Monday], but we now have a chance to put that right.
“The players know what is at stake – everyone on the football side knows.
“They are a willing bunch who want to do well and no-one wants to be in this situation.
“But we have to keep our heads above water.
“We have to stay above it.
“The only way to do it is to fight for your lives and that’s the message we have got across to the squad.”
While Jones has not banned the ‘R-word’ he is refusing to entertain the prospect of the club he took charge of in January going down.
“We’re not thinking about that,” he said. “That’s one thought we can’t have.
“We must look above.
“We are in a situation that is still in our hands and, while it is in our hands, we’ll fight to keep it like that.”
The last thing Pools need is to find themselves in a position where they are chasing Newport and relying on favours from elsewhere.
The best scenario tomorrow would be a win at a vibrant Vic for Pools allied to a home defeat for Newport.
That would make the gap four points, leaving Pools with the prospect of just one more win – or possibly two draws – to stay up.
Newport’s opponents, Accrington, still have a shot at the play-offs, so are highly-motivated.
That is unlike Pools’ visitors’ Barnet, who find themselves stuttering along in 16th and without a boss after Kevin Nugent’s sacking.
Jones though was quick to dismiss notions that the Londoners have nothing to play for.
“Every game matters – there is always something to play for,” he said.
“I’ve never adhered to the ‘there’s nothing to play for’ argument.
“What professional footballer wants to go out and not perform in front of a crowd?”
However, for all the sentiments of Jones, Barnet are NOT in good nick and the manager is looking for his players to go out and express themselves.
“Who are good opponents to face and who are bad opponents?” shrugged Jones. “They are all good if you beat them.
“We have to go out and show no fear, play with freedom.”
Admission prices have been slashed for tomorrow’s crunch game, with entry £10 (adults) and £5 (concessions).