HARTLEPOOL United are getting better – even if the results might not be showing it.
But that improvement will be put to the test tomorrow when they visit promotion hopefuls MK Dons (kick-off 3pm).
Pools produced some good football at home to Stevenage last Saturday, even though it was not enough to prevent the winless run hitting the 20-game mark.
And, on the face of it, the odds are on the sequence reaching 21 tomorrow.
Pools have the worst away record in the Football League and they go up against the side who have the second best record in League One.
The in-form Dons have picked up 23 points out of a possible 30 at stadium:mk, where they have kept five clean sheets.
First-team coach John Hughes will not shy away from the challenge of taking on a gifted side, even if he modifies his expansive approach tomorrow.
“Last week there were signs of improvement,” said the first-team coach.
“I’ve seen them and I hope supporters have too – short, sharp passing, better ball retention and trying to win a match.
“We created enough chances to score and it’s disappointing we didn’t take any.
“But as long as it keeps improving then I’m hoping the first victory won’t be far away.
“Tomorrow we’re going to MK Dons, a team renowned as being one of the best football teams, so it will be a big ask.
“But I feel a spirit and the players are expressing themselves more.
“We had some real good performances [against Stevenage] with Ritchie Humphreys getting his foot on the ball and passing it and Jack Baldwin at the back.
“I asked the boys to express themselves.
“Performances there inspired me as a coach and manager.”
Pools will certainly need to be inspired, given the quality of the home side.
And Hughes admits passion will be as important as passing tomorrow, with some true grit being required to stifle the Dons.
“We have been hard to beat of late,” Hughes told SportMail.
“We opened up a bit against Stevenage but, hand on heart, we have to block up the midfield and keep ourselves in the game.
“I want to come in at half-time still well in the match, so we may change our system a bit.
“We still try to get on the ball and pass it.
“I know Karl and he has done extremely well.
“Stephen Gleeson and Darren Potter are two really good midfielders to get started and Luke Chadwick can cause problems in the free role he has.
“There’s Dean Bowditch as well who is a good player and Alan Smith who has great experience.
“I’m well drilled on their strengths and weaknesses.
“They play a style which I want to being here and it’s one to look forward to – that’s why I came to England.”
Defender Peter Hartley could again be absent because of a bout of conjunctivitis, but Hughes will not rule out the tough Poolie.
“It’s touch and go for Peter,” he said. “If he sweats and it gets in there it’s very irritating.”