Hartlepool United have got the quality to survive - that’s the view of Pools caretaker boss Matthew Bates.
Former England youth defender Bates, who only hung up his boots 10 months ago, is in his second stint at a stand-in manager at Victoria Park.
And this spell got off to a familiar start with the 1-0 Ebbsfleet United defeat matching that of his managerial debut last season - a 1-0 loss at Cheltenham on the penultimate weekend of Pools’ Football League swansong.
The club are in a perilous position yet again, with just three points separating them and the fifth tier dropzone.
But Bates is certain Pools have their ability in their ranks to turn this campaign around before it is too late.
“This team has the quality to survive,” he said.
“I have worked with this team all year, and played with some of them last season. I know we have the ability to stay up.
“I would liked to have got off to a better start - especially when you see results elsewhere and the fact we could have opened up a gap.
“We couldn’t make drastic changes this week, there will be next week.
“We will have more time on the training pitch and we will be better but we have to be because they are a good side who like to play.”
Bates did not mince his words when asked about his players performance against the Fleet, who are having a contrasting season to Pools, nestled level on points with those in the play-off spots.
“The message to the players was that it wasn’t good enough,” said Bates.
“Individuals have to do better. They let themselves down in the first but were better in the second half.
“I think the players believe they can get out of this. I know they can. We had the conversations last week and they told me so.
“I just think it is the players know they have to be better. I have told them that.
“The back four, and the whole team as a unit, have to be stronger. We were not good enough.
“The defence did not give the lads further up the park the platform to win the game.”
Despite trying to keep a positive slant on his post-match words, Bates could not hide his clear disappointment at the under-par showing.
“It was almost two games in one,” he said.
“First half we were poor - we know that. I think that it came from a bad start. In a way that almost breeds a nervousness through the team.
“We were lucky to be 1-0 down at half-time. I thought in the second half we were the much better side.
“On another day we would maybe have come away with a point, but we cannot argue that the first half we could have been dead and buried.
“I am disappointed.”
Pools have just 11 National League games left. They take on Aldershot at the Electrical Services Stadium on Saturday.