HARTLEPOOL United welcome Stevenage to Victoria Park this afternoon with John Hughes still looking for the win that will kickstart his reign.
Hughes has picked up just a point from his three games in charge since succeeding Neale Cooper last month, and Pool remain rooted to the bottom of League One with an already ominous-looking 10-point gap between themselves and safety.
But Hughes insists he has seen enough fighting spirit among his squad on the training ground this week to convince him that they can spring a surprise against play-off chasing Stevenage.
“The lads have been lively and bubbly so hopefully they can take that in to Saturday and get that first win for me as a manager to get that monkey off my back,” he said.
“It’s vitally important because of the confidence and momentum a win will give us and it keeps the supporters right behind you.
“These boys have to make sure that every game we play whether it’s good, bad or indifferent that the opposition know they’ve been in a battle.
“We desperately want this home result, this first win.
“I would happily take a horrible, scrappy 1-0 win right now.
“I honestly believe it would do everything for our confidence, our belief and our season.”
Hughes’ tenure got under way with a disastrous 5-0 home defeat against Coventry City three weeks ago, and then days later they lost 2-1 against Oldham at Victoria Park.
But they drew 1-1 at Walsall in their last outing a fortnight ago, and Hughes believes his side is slowly improving.
He said: “We can’t keep giving goals away the way we did against Coventry so we have tried to plug the gaps in there to keep ourselves in the game.
“I hope the supporters will see some of the passing sequences we have been working on in training where we’re a little more patient on the ball and try to suck the opposition out. I’ve had a great buy-in from the boys in training and I just hope that spirit I have seen is there in the performance against Stevenage.”
Pools will once again be without full-back Neil Austin, who serves the second game of the four-match ban he picked up after receiving his second red card of the season in the defeat against Oldham.
Midfielder Simon Walton (hamstring) is continuing his rehabilitation work but will not be ready in time to play this afternoon.
Forward Luke James is still short of match fitness as he recovers following double hernia surgery.
Seventh-placed Stevenage will be without Portuguese midfielder Filipe Morais (knee) and defender Jon Ashton (Achilles).
Boro boss Gary Smith accepts that his side will be favourites this afternoon but warns that they cannot afford to take Pools lightly.
“Honestly, I don’t think there is an easy game in this league,” he said. “They range from tough to really tough!
“There aren’t any easy ones – you travel the full length of the country to play a team with a new manager, and fighting for their lives, that’s not easy.”