FOCUSED Hartlepool United manager Chris Turner knows this afternoon's clash with bogey side Brighton is one his side can't afford to lose.

Pool lie two places and ten points behind Mickey Adams' side in the promotion race.

And even though Chesterfield's alleged financial irregularities could mean finishing fourth would ensure promotion, Turner's sights are on the top three.

"This is the biggest game of the season,'' declared Turner. "I know supporters might think that the Darlington game is, but if we have any aspirations of overtaking Brighton then we have to beat them at home.

"We know how big this game is for the club. I haven't had to drill it into the lads this week or keep going on about it and we have tried to make the build-up to this game as normal as possible.''

Rival manager Adams echoed Turner's sentiments - and insisted that the pressure is on Pool this afternoon.

His side beat Barnet in midweek, a result that signalled the end of Tony Cottee's tenure in London, and said: "I thought it was a massive match for us on Wednesday.

"Hartlepool are ten points behind us now and we still have a game in hand, so they have got to win to give themselves any sort of chance.

"We can relax. The emphasis is all on them rather than us."

Pool, who have only beaten Brighton once in 21 attempts, went down 4-2 at the Withdean Stadium last November and Turner said: "They are the one team that gave us a real beating this season.

"But having said that, we are a better team now in terms of individuals and as a unit. We were missing a few players that night - Micky Barron was out and Kevin Henderson was missing as well.

"We went 4-5-1 to try to counteract them in midfield and hopefully break out in numbers, but we were two down in 15 minutes and left with everything to do.

"We got back into the game and had a good spell where we put them under pressure, but that was as far as it went. We know they are a strong side and difficult to beat, but if we play to our capabilities we will be more than a match for them.''

Turner described last week's draw at Darlington as his side's best performance over 90 minutes this season.

The draw took Pool's unbeaten run to a club-record 17 games while the result - Pool's fourth Division Three draw in a row - equalled the record for consecutive drawn games and the Pool chief said: "The good thing about last week was that we kept it going for 90 minutes.

"Everyone knows it was only down to one player that we didn't get the points our display merited.''

Turner's three new recruits - striker Jermaine Easter, defender Gordon Simms and utility man Andy Brownrigg - won't be involved this afternoon. Easter and Brownrigg will play for the reserves at home to Notts County on Monday, but Simms won't be allowed to play after being called up for the Northern Ireland under-21 squad to face the Czech Republic and Bulgaria.

Turner feels his squad is well-equipped for the crucial remaining seven weeks of the Division Three season.

Next Thursday is transfer-deadline day, but Turner said: "We have a very strong squad now, with competition and cover for every position. It's great to get the three lads in this week but they are not in the squad this weekend.

"Graeme Lee is coming back from injury soon, Gary Strodder has started his comeback and Paul Stephenson should be back for the Plymouth game next week, so we are up to strength.''

l Tony Cottee has left his post as player-manager at Third Division Barnet after just four months in charge.

The former West Ham and England star took over at Underhill in November last year, but admitted that his first managerial job had not worked out as he had planned.

He said: ''This has been a fantastic learning curve for me and my experience with Barnet will stand me in good stead. With the current precarious situation, the chairman and I agree that it is best that the team is placed in the hands of a man with more experience in Third Division football.''

Cottee started the season at Leicester before moving to Norwich, but the First Division club agreed to release him to take control at Barnet. His tenure began well with a goalless draw at Rochdale followed by a 7-0 victory over Blackpool on his Underhill debut. But his side slumped to a 6-1 pre-Christmas defeat at Pool and Barnet have gone from play-off contenders to relegation candidates.

They now lie just five points ahead of rock-bottom Halifax and face a battle to avoid the drop