Matthew Bates insists Hartlepool United cannot be weighed down with fear when they take to the field to face Doncaster Rovers tomorrow.
Pools tackle the title-chasers in the final League Two match of the season at the Northern Gas & Power Stadium (kick-off 5.30pm).
And, if it all goes horribly wrong, it could be the club’s last game in the Football League.
Pools have to beat Darren Ferguson’s team and hope third-bottom rivals Newport County – two points above Pools – draw or lose at home to Notts County.
The gravity of the occasion is clear, with Pools’ unbroken 96-year membership of the Football League dependent on the scorelines at the Vic and Rodney Parade.
Interim Pools boss Bates said: “We’ve tried not to talk about the severity of the situation.
“I don’t think that helps – they know themselves, they don’t need us to tell them.
“We just want them to play with no fear and I think they did that at Cheltenham last week (in a 1-0 defeat).
“There is no point in putting fear into them.
“I said last week that there have been no motivational speeches, no crisis meetings – our attitude has just been to get them ready to play.
“That performance at Cheltenham, compared to the one the week before, was remarkable really.
“Everything we asked of them they did – second balls, being aggressive, everything. They’ve taken on board all we’ve wanted them to do.
“It showed what we can do and I’m more confident now than before that we can beat Doncaster. That is the truth
“The players showed the fight, passion and desire and we have to show it again.”
Bates reported how buoyant the atmosphere has been inside the Vic and says he would have been worried had there been any hint of despondency.
“There really is a positive attitude to the place,” he said.
“It’s a bubbly dressing room. The result last week was not great, but the players have been lifted by the performance.
“There has been no moping about – we would not allow that anyway.
“It’s about being as upbeat as possible.”
Doncaster, already promoted, are still in with a shout of the title, despite trailing Plymouyh ahead of the final game.
“They aren’t on a great run, but they’ll come here to try to win the league on Sky, so they are fighting, but we are fighting doubly hard to stay in the league,” added Bates.
Defender Carl Magnay says the squad know exactly what tomorrow means – for the club and the North East, which could be down to three league clubs if Pools drop down to the National League.
“It would mean everything, obviously,” said the 28-year-old.
“We are aware as players of all the stuff out there.
“We’re aware of the history of the club – we know it’s never been outside the Football League.
“As players, we’ve got personal pride – you absolutely do not want to be part of a side that takes Hartlepool United out of the Football League for the first time in its history.
“We’re aware of the good people who work at the club behind the scenes, or at least I hope the lads are.
“Jobs could be at risk, livelihoods. I hope that’s ingrained in everybody’s minds and our performance reflects that against Doncaster.
“As a footballer, you can have bad days, performance-wise, but you should always give 100%.
“Tomorrow is an occasion where there isn’t an option of giving any less than that.
“I hope as individuals, and as a group, we are full aware of what this means to everyone.”