HARTLEPOOL United manager John Hughes has told his players not to take victory for granted today.
Yes, you did read that correctly.
Hughes, manager of the team who started 2013 11 points adrift at the bottom of League One, has warned them against complacency when they travel to Preston North End.
It just sums up a remarkable finish to 2012.
“We went to Sheffield United who were riding high and celebrating 150 years of football at Bramall Lane – they were supposed to win hands down,” reflected the Scot of his side’s game against the then-league leaders.
Hartlepool ran out 3-2 winners, Harry Maguire giving the scoreline a bit of respectability (and believability) with the last kick of the game.
“So are we supposed to go and win our next game against Preston hands down?” continued Hughes, who oversaw six of the club record 22 consecutive winless games this season. “Football doesn’t work like that.
“We enjoyed the win on Saturday but now we have to go again and if we can get the same application and attitude then we will be a hard team to beat.”
Only Hartlepool’s second win of the campaign has changed the mood at their Maiden Castle training ground – hopefully for more than a day or two.
Hughes went on: “Hopefully, we can take the confidence and momentum from that and carry it on.
“It was a happy changing room afterwards and there have been smiles on the training ground.
“Now we have to have the character to continue that – we’ve tasted that winning feeling again and now we have to want more of that and really want to kick on in the New Year. It’s given everyone a lift, including the supporters who have been terrific, so I hope they turn out in their numbers and we can give them something more to cheer.”
Just adding to Saturday’s feel-good factor were two goals from veteran Steve Howard.
The Durham-born striker’s only previous goal for the club came on October 2, also against Sheffield United, but Hughes has never lost faith.
He said: “I’m delighted for him he got his reward with two goals. I was always going to keep faith with Steve.
“When the ball comes in that box you need someone to go and head it and Steve has been different class since I came to the club. However, we need to look after him. We have to nurse him through it.”
Hughes was further encouraged when Antony Sweeney and Sam Collins had to be separated by their team-mates.
He added: “It was brilliant – that’s a bit of character. As long as it’s done in the right spirit then it’s okay. The two of them were laughing about it afterwards.
“I turned to the bench when it happened and said ‘brilliant, that’s what we want’.”
Hughes, who took a solitary point from his first six games since joining in November, travels to Deepdale with a new dilemma to ponder – whether to change a winning side. Striker James Poole will hope so after impressing as a 60th-minute substitute in South Yorkshire. The injured Charlie Wyke made way for Poole, but is hoping to be involved after treatment on his foot injury.
If so, Hughes will have a full squad to choose from with the exception of goalkeeper Andy Rafferty, who has still not recovered from his summer knee operation.
Preston might have been playing Championship football last season but they pose nothing like the same threat as the Blades.
Graham Westley’s side kick off 2013 looking for a first win in nine league games and were booed off after Saturday’s 3-0 defeat to Doncaster Rovers.