THIS week is gearing up to be one of the most pivotal in Hartlepool United’s history.
Three games in eight days and it is so far, so good, following the 1-0 win over play-off chasing Wimbledon.
Victory was the club’s fourth in five games at Victoria Park since the turn of the year and the first double of the season with a Ryan Bird goal on debut enough to send the Dons packing.
But the real test will come tomorrow night, away to Dagenham & Redbridge.
Ronnie Moore has spoken about not wasting the opportunity Pools have now given themselves when they travel to the Daggers.
Securing only their third away win of the season and back-to-back wins for the first time this campaign would really put the cat among the League Two pigeons.
By 10pm tomorrow the gap could be down to just three points, or it could be back up to nine.
The margins are fine and with games and time running out, Pools can afford few mistakes.
Building and then maintaining momentum has been a problem all season but they must string a run of results together now if they are to survive.
The win over Neal Ardley’s Dons – marred by the awful injury sustained by playmaker Michael Woods – has given them a platform.
Now they must build on it.
Bird looks to be a timely addition, a striker that can finish and he will fill the void left by Scott Fenwick’s injury.
He only had one chance but took it, twisting his body superbly to finish Jack Compton’s cross, which was slightly behind him, from close range.
He made the finish look easier than it was and with Connor Smith’s tireless and willing running alongside him, it could yet prove to be a fruitful partnership.
A crucial victory, what they must do now, is build on it.Pools writer Richard Mennear
Moore also has options on the bench, against Wimbledon it was the strongest it had been for a while.
And it is a good job given the injuries that are beginning to mount up.
Head physio Buster will be rushed off his feet, with Woods joining the growing injured list of Fenwick, Matthew Bates, Stuart Parnaby while Tommy Miller is still working his way back to fitness.
Following the ankle injury to Fenwick, the last thing Moore or the team needed was to lose their star midfielder.
Woods has been a revelation in recent weeks, easily the most consistent performer and when he performs, so do Pools.
The 24-year-old former Leeds United and Chelsea youth has grasped his second chance at a stint in league football and has benefited from playing regularly under Moore.
He sets the tempo with his attack-minded approach, always looking for a forward pass and capable of playing it too.
But his dislocated ankle and fractured fibula will keep him out for the season, a major blow.
Pools now need to re-group, with Nicky Featherstone set for an extended run.
That is why you have a squad, after all.
Featherstone will start against the Daggers and if, and it is a BIG if, Pools can secure seven to nine points this week and stay within touching distance then who knows how the season will end.
Bird’s first goal in a blue and white shirt certainly got the week off to the best start.
He only had one chance but took it well, showing the difference it makes having a finisher up top.
Bird’s debut was the only change, with Marvin Morgan dropping down to the bench after his indifferent display in the defeat to Bury.
The opening 45 minutes were poor, the tempo was too flat, with the visitors seemingly willing to accept a goalless draw from the off while referee Carl Boyeson took an age over decisions.
It was turgid and uninspiring stuff.
Chances were few and far between, the best of them fell to the visitors.
Scott Flinders spread himself well to block Jake Reeves’ effort after Adebayo Akinfenwa - who was kept quiet most of the afternoon - had played a lovely ball across the box.
Adedeji Oshilaja then connected with a Reeves corner but his header cannoned back off the woodwork, while David Mirfin produced a brave block to deny Alfie Potter’s volley.
In between, Smith’s persistence almost paid off, forcing the Dons defence into a mistake but David Winfield’s diving header cleared his goalbound shot.
Goalless at the break, Moore had some choice words to say to his players in a bid to wind them up.
It worked and the tempo and pace was far greater after the break.
Mind, it was Craig Tanner, of Wimbledon, who almost scored the opener. His shot deflected just wide of the post by Michael Duckworth’s boot.
Then came the lengthy stoppage while Woods received treatment, more than seven minutes the game was stopped for.
Woods had won a corner following what appeared to be a firm but fair challenge by Winfield but it was clear the midfielder had badly injured himself in the process.
He was given oxygen before being carried to a waiting ambulance.
It seemed to spur his teammates on in his honour, the excellent David Mirfin volleying just over from the resulting corner.
The crowd was revved up and the breakthrough came in the 73rd minute.
Smith played in Compton down the left and his cross was turned in by Bird two-yards from goal to cap a dream debut.
Compton almost extended the lead in the 79th minute, his close range volley saved by James Shea but Bird’s strike proved enough.
The fourth official announced 12 minutes of added-on time to be played but Pools held firm to secure only their seventh win of the season.
A crucial victory, what they must do now, is build on it.
Pools (4-4-2): Flinders (C), Duckworth, Mirfin, Harrison, Austin, Franks (J. Jones, 77), Woods (Featherstone, 63), Tshibola, Compton, Smith, Bird.
Subs Not Used: Maxted, Walker, D Jones, Harewood, Morgan.
Goal: Bird (73)
Wimbledon (4-4-2): Shea, Fuller (C), Kennedy, Bulman, Winfield, Oshilaja, Potter (Azeez, 71), Reeves, Tanner (Connolly, 84), Rigg (Moore, 71) Akinfenwa.
Subs Not Used: McDonnell, Smith, Phillips, Beere.
Booked: Fuller (40), Potter (69), Winfield (90)
Referee: Carl Boyeson (East Yorkshire)
Attendance: 3,345 (203 Wimbledon)