MIKE NEWELL is seeking a quick reaction from his players tonight.

Just 72 hours after suffering a 3-0 reverse at Lincoln, table-toppers Hartlepool United have a chance to consign the defeat to the bin as they entertain Bury at Victoria Park.

Pool's lead at the top of the table was reduced to nine points on Tuesday, but victory tonight would stretch it to 12 - and with second-placed Rushden travelling to Wrexham tomorrow, Pool have a chance to strike first.

The Sincil Bank scoreline flattered the home side, who netted twice in the closing minutes and had keeper Alan Marriott to thank for keeping Pool out.

And Newell, who suffered his first reverse of 2003 in the process, said: "Losing on Tuesday hurt the lads - and we will see how quickly we can pick ourselves up.

"If it hurts as much as it looked like it was hurting in the dressing room after the game, then we will get a good response.

"We knew how Lincoln would play - they put you under pressure all the time and don't let you settle, but we had a lot of possession in the second-half.

"We were still in the game until the last five minutes. We had plenty of the ball and had plenty of chances. It's not like we didn't play well or didn't create chances.

"We are at home to Bury - it's a big game because they are chasing one of the top places - but we have nothing to fear.''

Newell added: "Tuesday was one defeat - it was always going to happen at some point.

"Anyone who says we are going to go through the season unbeaten is either living in Cloud Cuckoo Land or is not with it.''

Pool's previous defeat - at Hull on Boxing Day - saw them go on an 11-game unbeaten stretch which put them in a healthy position at the top of the table.

Tuesday was only their sixth defeat of an impressive campaign, but their heaviest came at Rochdale on December 14 when they went down 4-0.

"This wasn't the same as Rochdale,'' said Newell. "That was down to conceding three bad goals and I wouldn't say we did that on Tuesday.

"We were unhappy with the second goal, but we always looked like we could claw it back.''

Pool will be looking for a big crowd as they experiment with Friday night football for the first time this season.

Pool legend Joe Allon has called on North-East football fans to help pack Victoria Park.

"It's exciting supporting Pools at the minute,'' he said. "I've said it before that it's easy for supporters of both Hartlepool and Darlington to support one of the big three.

"This is a good chance for the supporters to show the chairman what they can do and get a big crowd in.

"And I don't only mean Hartlepool people. This is a chance for people from all over the North-East to come and see how good Pools really are.

"I know of plenty of people from Newcastle way who are tuning into the radio this season to listen to Pools. There's an interest from all over the area. Plenty of people had them down as bankers at the start of the season when they were picking their title winners on the betting slips - and rightly so."

Read more about Hartlepool here.