TEN points and a place in the top half of League Two.
That is the minimum requirement from boss Colin Cooper as Hartlepool United enter the last six games of the season.
Pools are in decline, three defeats in a row, two at home have seen them slip from just outside the top seven to 14th.
There are mitigating factors – a small squad damaged by a lengthy sick list – but Cooper is demanding a strong run-in from his side, starting with a win at struggling Portsmouth tomorrow.
“We are out to finish top half – if we don’t I’ll be disappointed, as this group should not be bottom half of the table,” said the manager.
“The challenge is to get better.
“My belief is if we finish bottom end of the table, it’s flat and not a justifiable ending.
“There are 18 points to play for, how many can we get?
“My challenge is 10, at least, and looking at the games, why not?
“That will see us top half – if we don’t, I’ll be disappointed, very disappointed.
“Depending on whether people will step up now and say they want to finish top half will determine where in table we finish.
“If they do, we could be eighth, if they don’t we could be 18th – that’s the challenge.”
Goals are what Cooper is looking at – more at the offensive end and fewer at the end his team is defending.
He says the fact there is a nine-goal gap between the leading two marksmen is evidence why the side are not higher in the table.
“Luke James has been sensational, scoriing 15 goals,” Cooper explained.
“But Luke aside, our next top scorer has six.
“We haven’t scored enough goals.
“People have contributed over a season, but to join the top group you need strikers into double figures – At least two or three to make it.
“Luke has been brilliant and I had a chat with Jonny Franks the other day, the next best on six.
“Backing that up, our goal difference is zero – we’ve not scored enough and not conceded few enough, but are somewhere in between.”
Pools have suffered frustration over the last 270 minutes of League Two football.
They have been in contention each time, at Oxford, and at home to Mansfield and Cheltenham, only to suffer 1-0, 4-2 and 1-0 defeats.
Given third-bottom Pompey are fighting for their lives, tomorrow’s visit to Fratton Park could be harder than the previous three matches.
“The last three games have been disappointing,” said Cooper.
“Oxford? There was nothing in it and we lose 1-0,
“Mansfield and Cheltenham are both games we should not have lost.
“It’s OK saying we are creating chances and not putting them away isn’t for the want of trying.
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“But we haven’t scored enough and not conceded few enough to be up where really some of our play dictates we should be.
“In between both 18-yard boxes we have done some nice things in games.
“But in both areas we probably haven’t been productive enough in.
“The challenge is, how many clean sheets between now and the end of the season?
“And how many goals can we score and how many points can we get? Them we will see where we finish. The challenge is top half.
“Remember back to the first few games – and it’s all gone past in a flash for me – the odds on us finishing top half were quite long.
“We owe it to ourselves, we owe it to the fans and people out there.
“We may not have been quite good enough at the moment, but as a starting point for next season – it should be eighth, ninth, tenth and we progress from there.”