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Pools confident of extending their positive run
LAST time when Hartlepool United travelled to the then-League One leaders they caused the shock of the season in winning at Sheffield United.
Repeat the feat this afternoon when they go to Doncaster and it wouldn't be such a surprise.
Pools are now the form team of the division, five wins in seven unbeaten games.
It's a run that has lifted them off the bottom of the table, albeit only up one spot.
But it's given them a real chance of beating the drop and, while they sit six points from safety, there's a real belief they can complete the job.
Pools' win over Crewe in Tuesday was tainted by the fact that relegation rivals Bury, Colchester and Scunthorpe also triumphed.
The gap to safety has been clawed back in recent weeks and Hughes puts it in a positive light.
"If you are six points off the play-offs, would you not think you had a chance of getting in there?'' he asked. "We are only six points off staying in the league - simple, that's it.
"I keep saying to the players 'concentrate on what we are doing, keep going, keep the standards up, keep fresh and don't look at others too much'.
"Teams around us are picking up results, but others above are getting dragged into it - the more the merrier.''
Today's opponents won their first game in six in midweek, a sequence of results which has still been enough to put them top as others have also been faltering of late.
That includes Swindon, who Pools drew with three weeks' ago, and Sheffield United.
That trip to Bramall Lane was a turning point for Pools.
"Same scenario this weekend, at Christmas we were bottom of the table and going to Sheffield United, top of the table and looking to celebrate 150 years of football at Bramall Lane - and there was nothing better than going there and spoiling it,'' said Hughes.
"I'd like to think the inspiration we are using right now is off each other, from team-mates. The run we are on, let's go and give it a go.
"I felt Tuesday was possibly the best we have been in shape and organisation and we looked to play quick, counter-attacking football. We were solid and there's a spirit.
"We could have passed it better at times, I'm delighted with the goals and the win.
"It's a big test, we are massive underdogs and second bottom. Brian Flynn said when he got the job they are the best team in the league and I'm not going to disagree with him.
"They are a right good side, but we give it our best shot and be resolute.
"I'll use any took at my disposal to get inside my players' heads to inspire them. Look at Gareth Bale and his goals - that excites me and if I was a young player I would want to do that.''
Recent results and performances have been a world away from what was served up in the first-half of the season.
Then the players appeared scared of the situation they were in and crumbled under pressure as results remained negative.
Now, under Hughes, it's a case of bring it on.
"It's a battle and we enjoy it,'' he insisted. "I'm here to give the players a hand and put them in the right direction, it's up to them to carry it out.
"I feel I'm experienced enough to come in here and see the picture when I arrived. We were lacking confidence and that was spilling over into our game. Now we have got rid of that and there's a freedom and spirit and on top of their form.
"What we can't do is sit back and rest on our laurels. We have no fear of the situation, we want to show the leaders we are a good side and, individually, I am good enough to be in your team.
"If it's not to be, not being negative, then we go again. We have put a lot of pride back in the community and the club and it's nice to see the fans and players have a smile on their faces.''
Pools have been unchanged since this unbeaten run started.
If Simon Walton and Evan Horwood are fit to start today after suffering against Crewe it will be eight games with the same starting XI.
Pools were back in training yesterday after being given two days off following the impressive Crewe performance.
Hughes said: "We have picked the same team in recent games and that helps. All we can do is make sure they are fresh and keep that injury room free. We hope Simon Walton can make the game, he's a wee back problem, and Evan Horwood will be fine.
"But substitutes have come on and played their part. Darren Holden came on against Notts County and helped see the game out, Nathan Luscombe has played a part, Stevie Howard - if he hadn't scored at Sheffield United then we wouldn't' be here and he came on against Orient to create havoc.
"No matter who is in the team, on the bench, everyone is supportive. It's something we have talked about.
"I've been in football and if you aren't playing, sometimes you want the guy in your position not to have a great game so you can get back in. But I've addressed that.
"We have to be supportive and if you get a chance, play your part and it's worked a treat.''