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Hughes breaks it down into simple terms for his players
JOHN Hughes message to his players is a simple one. In breaking the game into the most basic of equations, the Hartlepool United coach is not giving his players any leeway.
As disappointed he was on Tuesday, as dejected he was with the performance of his players at Oldham, it was at least an eye opener.
Unbeaten during February, Pools had suffered just one defeat in ten games going to Boundary Park to take on a fellow bottom four dweller.
But Pools produced the sort of performance that stained their opening half of the season.
The Latics won 3-0. It was too easy. Hughes hopes, starting today at home to Walsall, Pools respond.
He won't accept going down without putting up a fight, or surrendering as meekly as they did on Tuesday in a game he labelled "must-win".
"Tuesday might be the best thing that happened to us,'' he said. "There's some things I won't say in the press, it would give them (the players) an easy out. I keep it to myself.
"But we have to be right at it, no feeling sorry.
"Unless you are up against a Messi who will nutmeg you, nutmeg again, go and score then stand up to it. You are on the same pitch in the same division as the opposition. Get on the ball, make it hard. Link up. Everything a football match demands.
"At least try and do it right.''
Pools, seven points from safety, could be relegated when they go to Stevenage on Easter Monday.
Alternatively, they could be in with a fighting chance.
"Seven games left, it has to be full on,'' boomed Hughes. "Embrace it, we need 17 points from 21. Let's give ourselves a chance and go and win games.
"We aren't prolific scorers, but we can keep a clean sheet and nick one. Let's not concede as easy as the other night.
"Break it down. Play the first 45 minutes and keep a clean sheet. Within that 45 minutes, the ball is in play 25 minutes. If you cannot handle that....
"In that 25 minutes, touch the ball 15 times. That's the simplicity of it.
"On the other hand, if you are touching that ball 15 times and they are showing more passion and aggression, match them.''
Hughes added: "Pass the ball to keep it and take the sting out of the game. We couldn't pass it between two players.
"It was evident the other night we missed Ritchie (Humphreys). Hopefully he trains OK, Charlie Wyke the same, he's looked a wee bit tired.
"I thought I knew the boys the other night, I don't ask them to do two jobs. Come here, do that and do your job as well. Pressure and come over and cover.
"They got there, but the time their full-backs had on the ball, they could sit on it. As soon as the ball is on the way, get on them and push them over. We were laboured.
"Am I asking them too much? Now it's a case of that's your job, nullify them.''
Hughes has lifted spirits and the level of performance at Pools since his November arrival.
But a losing mentality seeps around the place following a couple of drastically under-performing seasons.
The Scot will have to revamp and reshape his playing squad in the summer, whatever division Pools are in. And he will be looking for players with a mental strength, a winning mentality as much as those with the ability to beat and man and compete with their opponent.
"Maybe it comes down to character?,'' mused Hughes. "What's the definition of character? Belief, be the best on the pitch - or is there apprehension and doubt?
"False bravado? Get that out the way, talk yourself up.
"A boxer who isn't prepared properly will find the ring is the loneliest place in the world.
"Train right, prepare right as a world champion and that boxing ring the place you go to work in for a scrap, to win.
"That's what I'm saying to the players. No excuses. How can there be an excuse? You work, you train, you listen, you learn. Football is 24/7. What's the excuse?
"Show you are good enough not just to play for Hartlepool but to stay in the team and win games.''
The coach stopped short of a Neale Cooper-style rant following the humbling, but admitted: "I had to come in on Tuesday night and talk to the press afterwards - I was talking about being off the pace, showing no desire or hunger, being off the pace.
"I want to come in and talk about football, winning football, to be able to talk about passing, beating the opposition, link-up play, crossing.
"Yet we didn't compete. We were second best. On that display how many of my players would get in the Oldham team? One? Two?''