Hartlepool Utd boss can’t rotate squad for Portsmouth visit

John Hughes at MK Dons. Picture by FRANK REID
John Hughes at MK Dons. Picture by FRANK REID

JOHN Hughes would like to rotate his squad in anticipation of the festive period – but admits he can’t while Hartlepool United remain in such a desperate position.

Pools welcome Portsmouth to Victoria Park tomorrow afternoon for what is the first of four fixtures over Christmas and New Year.

The good news is that Hughes has been boosted by the return to fitness of Peter Hartley, Evan Horwood, Simon Walton, Luke James and Nathan Luscombe for the visit of Pompey.

But Hughes will refrain from making too many changes given his determination to chalk up his maiden victory at the Poolie helm.

“We’ll consider the Christmas period and what we have to come, but we need that win so we can get momentum and confidence from it,” the 48-year-old told SportMail with his side 13 points from safety and without a win in 21 matches.

“When we get it, we can see what needs to be done to take us on from there.

“Winning that first game needs to come quickly – it is proving to be elusive.

“This weekend is a real opportunity for us because we need to win games very quickly if we are to remain in this division.”

And, when asked if Pools could still survive the drop, Hughes came back: “I’ve done a lot of positive soul searching.

“I’m assessing it and asking what I have to do to get my team winning football matches.

“I might have to bring players in who want to play my style of play, but I also have to get the best out of the boys here.

“The players have been committed and receptive to training and I have to help them by playing to their strengths and weaknesses.

“When we win that game, sooner rather than later, it can give us a spirit to win back-to-back games.

“The team has been severely lacking in confidence and a trust and belief in each other.

“I’ve tried to turn those three things into a positive.

“I want them to play with confidence and freedom because without that you won’t win football matches.

“When we do that then I believe, yes, we can survive.”

Team-news wise, Horwood is likely to keep his place having recovered from the groin strain which forced him off at MK Dons last weekend.

Peter Hartley will return at the heart of the defence in place of the suspended Jack Baldwin, while Neil Austin serves the last of his four-game ban.

POOLS (probable): Flinders; Richards, Collins, Hartley, Horwood; Franks, Humphreys, Sweeney, Monkhouse; Wyke; Howard. Subs: McHugh, Murray, Holden, Walton, Luscombe, Poole, James