JOHN Hughes admits he has a different sort of scenario on his hands this evening - managing expectations.

Hartlepool United go into their game with Portsmouth at Victoria Park, labelled a cup final by Hughes, knowing victory will see them jump off the bottom of League One.

Tonight's opponents have lost nine in a row, including a 3-1 defeat to Pools at Fratton Park a fortnight ago, and have only take three points from the last 54 available.

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Pools are finally in form and, while they still have only won twice at Victoria Park all season, their last outing there was a welcome victory over Notts County.

On the back of some solid away form and improved performances, Pools are expected to win tonight.

Saturday saw Pools take a point at promotion-chasing Swindon, a performance and result that has increased belief futher that they can make a fight of the relegation battle they are entrenched in.

"It's set up for Tuesday, expectations are there and let's create a spirit and atmosphere to enjoy,'' said Hughes. "Get behind the boys and roar them on. If we go behind, get behind them.

"I've asked so many questions about what it used to be like at the Vic, I've asked everyone and the answer is the same - it was a place people hated going to. We've got to get back to that between now and the end of the season to give ourselves a chance.''

He added: "Tuesday is a bit different with different expectations. We are starting to gather points and climb the table, we are up for the fight.

"It can be dangerous, but we took the points against them the other week. We have to be very careful about what we do but we need by hook or by crook to get the points.

"It's a cup final for us, an FA Cup final. If you are playing in the cup final what's your preparation? Bring it on, embrace it, see yourself winning the cup.

"If you cannot sleep and if you are getting butterflies then here we go, bring it on.

"Tell me someone who doesn't want to play in an FA Cup final - this is ours.''

Hughes has turned Pools into a well-drilled and organised unit of late. Current displays are much-improved on what went on earlier in the season.

"It's the nuts and bolt of football,'' he said. "I say to the boys you have to go out there and take a knock, a kick, get a sweat on, chase everything and do the fundamentals. Don't put a strip on if you aren't going to do the fundamentals.

"There's still a long way to go but I'm pleased for the boys with their response.

"Tuesday is a big one, a different ball game as we go into the game after beating them and expectations are high. We need to make sure our mindset is right.

"They are not a bad side and they don't wan't to finish bottom.

"Let's hope the place is bouncing and packed to the rafters, come along and support us.

"Win that game, and other teams will be looking over their shoulder wondering who is coming along at them.

"There's been some turnaround and it's credit to the players who have galvanised themselves.''

The atmosphere at Victoria Park for the Notts County game lifted the players and Hughes has spoke of his delight at the reception man of the match Simon Walton got from the terraces - stark contrast to the boos that jeered a number of his previous games.

And captain Peter Hartley admits the players were taken in by the reception they all got during that victory.

"Look at last week, Simon was man of the match and applauded off, the crowd were right behind him,'' he said.

"Now the challenge for the fans is that if Simon starts a game with a sticky patch, then they should still cheer his name and support him.

"We know, as players, what a difference it makes when they are behind you when it's not going well - it can turn your game around.

"We have to inspire them, but they inspire us as well. We might concede the first goal and, if we do, then we want them to get behind us and lift us.

"They helped us no end last weekend. The atmosphere was brilliant.''

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