By Tony Leighton
Hartlepool United will not be figuring in round two of the FA Cup this weekend, but that could be a bonus rather than a disappointment says new manager John Hughes as he looks to turn around the fortunes of npower League 1's rock-bottom team.
Pools suffered a 6-1 first round hammering at the hands of League 2 Chesterfield a couple of weeks before Scotsman Hughes was put in charge and, taking on his first appointment in England, handed the task of saving Pools from relegation.
So it is quite understandable that, with just one point from his three games to date, former Falkirk, Hibernian and Livingston boss Hughes is more concerned with working on a plan to keep his team in League 1 than to progress in the FA Cup.
The Pools manager told football-league.co.uk: "The games are coming thick and fast so maybe this two-week break is a blessing in disguise. We can get one or two injuries over the line and really go to work on the training pitch.
"Since I've come into the football club it's been game-recovery, game-recovery and there's not been much work done, so this two weeks will give us the chance to go and organise things and be better when it comes to the next game."
Hughes' team will almost certainly have to be better if they are to take points from their next match, at home to seventh in the table Stevenage, before what will probably be an even more difficult fixture at second-placed Milton Keynes Dons.
Pools are 10 points adrift of League 1's safety places and, with a meagre nine points from the 60 on offer in the 20 games they have so far played, their situation is looking desperate as they attempt to claw their way out of trouble.
Hughes admitted last week that it might take a miracle to survive. But, as a former central defender with a reputation for grit and determination, he will be doing everything in his power to ensure that Pools do indeed retain their League 1 status.
Despite being renowned as a 'hard man' when playing for the likes of Falkirk, Celtic and Hibs, he likes his teams to play a neat passing game. But he said: "I'd like to talk about total football, but right now we're miles away from that.
"Will I make us a better footballing team as the weeks and months go by? Yes, I'd like to think so, but right at this minute we have to be hard working, we have to be resolute and solid because we're fighting for our lives.
"I'm trying to make us hard to beat, to stick in matches, that's where we are as a team. We are improving though, and the players are showing real tenacity and spirit. There are plenty of games to go - and we won't give us the fight until it's impossible."
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