FIVE points and a better goal difference in front of the bottom two, there’s two games remaining. Hartlepool United cannot be relegated because of the seven teams below them, no two can catch them up.
And while Monday was cause for celebration, joy in the manner in which they beat Morecambe at Victoria Park, in reality for Colin Cooper it was a game of importance that should not have been happening.
It’s only four weeks previous that Pools went to Oxford as genuine play-off contenders.
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Instead, defeat on March 21 was followed by five more and Pools plunged to within two points of the drop.
And, Cooper admitted, ahead of today’s final away game at Plymouth: “As much as the lads have given everything, the fact of the matter is, wherever we finish, hasn't been good enough. We are going have to try to improve.
“If we don't then what's the point of doing the job?
“I've loved every minute of the job so far and all I want to do is improve on what I've done this year – it will be down to recruitment and having the staff in place I want.’’ Pools’ players left Victoria Park in an emotional state last time out, and back on the training ground on Thursday under Cooper’s watchful eye, the manager was drilling home the need to keep their standards high.
“All Monday did was take away people’s fears. I didn’t have those fears, or a negative vibe that others wanted me to have,’’ he admitted.
“I’m pleased for everyone that it’s been taken away, but I look at it and ask why can’t we go to Plymouth and win and play Exeter in the last game and win and give our fans another day like Morecambe?
“I talk about sending them home on a Saturday night, or Monday as it was, happy – well let’s send them away for the summer believing there is something there.
“We have had a lot of nice pats on the back all season for the way we have played. We spoke about the extra fans who came on Monday to entice them back regularly and let’s give them a team to enjoy watching.
“I know we need better results next year and that’s the challenge.’’ After falling one down to Morecambe and being reduced to ten men following Simon Walton’s red card – a four-game suspension rules him out today and of the first two games of next season – Pools showed character to come back.
With so much riding on the game, especially following their 3-0 defeat at Burton just two days earlier, Cooper revealed his players knew the severity of the situation.
“The only thing Monday does is that the nature of the game means you go out there with tension and butterflies, that’s the right thing to be,’’ he said.
“I heard, as a kid, Bobby Charlton say if you are going on the pitch without butterflies in your stomach then you should not be going out there.
“We had lost six on the bounce, playing in front of your own fans and one-down after 20 minutes. I suggest there’s a lot of butterflies in your stomach.
“But the response was fantastic and, whatever level you play at, wherever you play, those days are good.
“So what did we do to feel like that? It’s not going to be like that every week, but we have to try and recreate it.
“You can’t say ‘I did well last week, so I get Saturday off’. That’s not professional, look the word up in the dictionary and professional isn’t about having one day on, one off.’’ Without Walton today, Cooper will give a start to Conor Oliver in midfield, the Sunderland 20-year-old loan signing getting his Football League debut.
Fellow Sunderland loanee Scott Harrison was impressive on Monday and Cooper admitted he spoke to the pair about the importance of ending their season well.
“I was having a chat with Scott Harrison and Connor Oliver,’’ he said. “You can prepare all you want, rest, recover, all the sports science support you want – but one day you might just wake up feeling bad.
“And you go out there needing to get through it and it’s about giving the best you have got – that’s your job.’’ Monday’s two matchwinners Jack Compton and Jack Barmby both made a big impact after arriving as substitutes, and Cooper said of the pair: “The impact of the Jacks was outstanding – despite what people thought about taking James Poole off!
“Coming off the bench, you have to have an impact to get that exposure. If you are gutted about not starting, then do yourself justice when you get a chance.
“They were both hang up for it and wanted to make an impact. With ten men, we had five forward thinking players on the pitch and it was a massive gamble.
“We got what we wanted, both Jacks I suggest would be knocking on the door to play on Saturday.’’