MILTON Keynes failing to beat Darlington at the National Hockey Stadium this afternoon would confirm Hartlepool United's place in League One next season.

And last night Dave Penney called on Pools counterpart Danny Wilson to return the favour by keeping Darlington's faint hopes alive with victory at Wycombe Wanderers.

MK Dons are fourth in the table, having failed to win in their last four games, and are now six points short of an automatic place.

Anything less than three points for the Dons today would guarantee Pools promotion.

The Victoria Park side could ensure promotion themselves, regardless of the result in Milton Keynes, if they avoid defeat against Wycombe, one of several sides, including Darlington, vying for a play-off place.

"I'm sure Hartlepool will be wanting us to do them a favour against MK Dons," said Penney.

"You look after yourself and if we can get something out of the game, then if it helps Hartlepool then hopefully they can do us a favour at Wycombe too."

Hartlepool, Walsall, Swindon and MK Dons were all relegated from League One last season. And now the quartet, led by Pools, are jostling with each other for an immediate return to the Football League's third tier.

Penney and Quakers' fans cannot help but feel envious at Pools' current situation, but without the restrictions of a transfer window, Penney will be striving to emulate their success during the summer when he rebuilds his squad in preparation for a renewed promotion bid next season.

"You can see that they all have strength and quality," said Penney. "To be fair they are also paying good money as well and that's what you've got to compete with.

"Martin (Allen) has had success in the league above with Brentford and he's got MK Dons playing in the right way."

Despite the Dons' recent slump in results, Penney is preparing to face a backlash from a club which was in the Premiership seven years ago.

"I know Martin and I know that they will make sure they are revved up for this game," said Penney.

"They can't afford to drop any more points if they want to stay in the play-offs or have any chance of an automatic place.

"I'm sure he'll be swimming in a river somewhere and getting them wound up for the game."

The Easter weekend represented an ideal opportunity for Penney's men to close the gap on the top seven.

But in taking two points out of a possible six in back-to-back draws against Chester and Lincoln, Darlington's season is in danger of fizzling out.

"It's not good enough," he admitted. "We wanted to be picking up maximum points if we could. We let a sloppy goal in at Chester, and even though we were a lot better on Monday it just showed that we are still not quite good enough to get there.

"We were hoping to sneak into the play-offs if we could and it's still not over because we are four points behind with four games left.

"Games are running out quickly now and we have four tough games.

"If we win all four then we might have a chance, but it's a tall order."

Mark Phillips will continue at the heart of the Quakers defence alongside Patrick Collins.

The 24-year-old has impressed since joining the club from Millwall on-loan last month and Penney has not ruled out the possibility of landing the Lambeth-born player on a permanent basis, saying: "He's got a year left at Millwall and I think he's going to be surplus requirements there."