FIVE games down, 14 to go – John Hughes has set the target for his Hartlepool United players.

The coach wants his players to carry on their current unbeaten run and make sure it lasts until the final game of the season.

Do that, and Pools should be safe from the drop into League Two.

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It’s some task. A couple of months ago and Pools were already as good as down, but with some positive performances and some welcome belief instilled into the squad, Hughes has lifted spirits at Victoria Park.

They are, following Oldham’s win at Stevenage on Tuesday, nine points short of the safety line.

With a trip to Scunthorpe followed by a home game with Crewe next Tuesday, Pools could be within touching distance this time next week – or they could be further away if their current decent run is halted.

But Hughes is weighing up every possible scenario.

“The run gives us that fighting chance and keeps alive the hope that we can stay in this league,’’ he admitted.

“We're hoping that we can go unbeaten between now and the end of the season.

“I'm a realist and that probably won't happen.

“The big thing is, can we bounce back from defeat?

“We're thinking about all scenarios, but as long as the unbeaten run continues then we don't have to think about that.

“You can see the spirit, the spring in their step and the smiling faces.

“That's all credit to them, they have brought this together.

“But I think a lot of them have hit good form.’’ Hughes has praised his players for finally finding their form after a season of struggle and poor displays for the most of it.

But those have been put to bed now and Hughes said: “Sam Collins is playing exceptionally well – he's quite unassuming the way he goes about his business.

“But on Saturday he was winning his headers, blocking and tackling.

Peter Hartley is hitting his best form of the season.

“Jack Baldwin is doing well in that three-man midfield.

“I substituted Simon Walton at the weekend and the fans weren't happy with that.

“I'm delighted because it shows he has won them over - that just shows you the turnaround and he was disappointed to come off.’’ Hughes is ready to add former Newcastle prospects Dennis Knight and Michael Riley to his squad after they impressed on trial.

“Dennis and Michael is in the hands of Russ (Green, chief executive).

“I don't know if they're ready to go and play in our first-team, but I want to do it until the end of the season.

“We want to give them the opportunity to push to get in the first-team.

“They can only do that if they're here until the end of the season and can go and train like a world champion to get their chance.’’

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