The next few weeks can make or break Hartlepool United’s season – that’s the view of midfield dynamo Lewis Hawkins.
Pools head to Carlisle tomorrow looking to make it seven games unbeaten on the bounce in League Two.
But despite that run, in which they’ve picked up 10 points and played three of the top six sides in the division, Pools sit 14th in the table.
And Hawkins believes that heading into the hectic festive period on a run of bad results could spell curtains for any hopes Pools have of making the play-offs.
But, on the flip-side, a good couple of wins will put them right in the top-seven mix.
“It is a crucial part of the season coming up now,” said the 23-year-old.
“The run-up to Christmas can really define where you finish.
“The games come thick and fast at that time of year and the last thing you want to do is be on a bad run heading into it.
“We need to get some wins under our belts before then, because after Christmas teams tend to stay where they are.”
So tight is the division at this stage of the campaign that depending on whether you are a pessimist or an eternal optimist, Pools are just six points above the relegation spots but three away from the play-offs.
Hawkins says talk of the drop has been banished at the Northern Gas & Power Stadium since Craig Hignett walked through the door. Instead, he sees Pools headed in only one direction.
“It is very tight at this level,” he said.
“You can win three games and be up there, then you can lose a few and be straight back down there.
“The league is full of teams who are inconsistent. That’s what makes this league so exciting.
“Anybody can beat anyone on their day at this level.
“I think we have got the players in this team to be up there with the top three teams.
“Before the season started, relegation wasn’t even talked about.
“It has only ever been positive thinking with the manager and the players.
“We want to get up this table, not be looking down it.”
After a tough run of games, taking on the likes of promotion contenders Crawley, Luton and Plymouth, you’d think things might get a touch easier for Pools. Well, on paper, anyway.
Easy? There’s nothing of the sort at this level, according to Hawkins.
“Carlisle are flying,” he said. “But we have been comfortable against the top teams we have played.
“Week-in, week-out, things don’t get any easier. But these are the teams we want to play.
“If we want to progress as a club we need to beat teams like Carlisle. We have proven we can mix it with the top teams in the last few weeks. Now we have to prove it all over again.
“No one has beaten them this season. We want to be the first.”
The last thing Hawkins wants this weekend is to be coming away from Cumbria disappointed.
Taking Grimsby and Yeovil out of the equation, that’s been the overriding emotion for Pools of late.
He continued: “In a lot of games we’ve been disappointed. That’s football.
“We have had to pick ourselves up game after game lately, but we want that to change. We’ve picked up points but wish it was more.
“If we keep working hard we can turn these draws into wins.”