COLIN Cooper has challenged his Hartlepool United players to finish the season strongly if they want to stay at the club next season.
Cooper watched his side get beat 1-0 by Cheltenham Town in Sky Bet League Two at Victoria Park thanks to a 74th minute Jermaine McGlashan finish.
It was their third defeat in eight days and saw Pools drop to 13th place, now 10 points off the top seven with six matches left to play.
Pools, who at times were sloppy and slow in possession, had enough chances to get something from the game – with 14 attempts at goal but only five of those were on target.
The manager admitted afterwards his players were a bit short, with the younger ones in particular, feeling the affects of a gruelling season.
But he has challenged his team to finish strongly, not to let it drift, otherwise there will be consequences.
The 47-year-old told SportMail: “The challenge to the players is there are six games to finish as high as they can.
“Loan players Jack [Barmby] and Christian [Burgess] are different but the challenge to the rest is to show me you are desperate to be here next season.
“I am planning and thinking about it and have been for a while.
“The challenge to everybody in the dressing room is I have some decisions to make and if you want to be here, then understand where we are at the moment because we have been found slightly wanting.
“I don’t want to be huffing and puffing next year.
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“The challenge is not to finish in the bottom half of the league because we are better than that.
“At this moment in time we are 13th but we are more than capable of getting up to eighth or ninth.
“If they don’t get up there do I need to think about the type of people that are here next year? Because that isn’t good enough for me.
“There are all sorts of things to consider moving forward.”
Defeat to Cheltenham brought an end to a disappointing week which has seen Pools lose three matches on the bounce, following losses to Oxford United and Mansfield.
Frustrated Cooper felt his players were “short” on Saturday and despite creating more clear-cut chances than their opponents, they were unable to put them away.
He added: “I thought we were just a bit short and whether that’s down to youth or tiredness and whatever it is, we have to accept it.
“We huffed and puffed, looked after the game and had more crosses and shots than them but we’ve got suckered in the end.
“Defeat on Saturday was on the back of a disappointing week but I was looking at some of the younger players and it looked as though they were giving every inch of what they had left.
“I’m frustrated and disappointed for the players and the fans but most of all I am disappointed that at the end of a long week, three games have dictated where we are.”
After a busy week like the one just gone, the players would usually be afforded an extra day off but not this week. Instead they will be working extra hard on the training ground in the build-up to Portsmouth away on Saturday.
“I would normally give them an extra rest day, I won’t this week,” said Cooper.
“If nothing else, we need to be on the training ground and making sure when we get to Portsmouth we give a good account of ourselves.
“We can still do the rest we need to but that extra day on the training ground will do us good.”