HARTLEPOOL United manager John Hughes is hoping the North East weather allows his players a crack at one of the League One big boys tonight.
Until back-to-back defeats started by last week’s FA Cup exit at home to Wigan Athletic, Bournemouth had not lost since Eddie Howe returned as manager in October. They fly north today only outside the play-offs on goal difference.
Hughes has been in charge of a much weaker Hartlepool side for a month less without being able to lift them off the bottom of the table. It has done nothing to dampen the Scot’s fighting spirit.
The easy option of a Tuesday night in front of the television is the last thing he wants.
“I’m hoping it might go ahead,” said the former Berwick Rangers striker and Celtic defender. “I’ve had a look at the pitch and there’s not a bit of snow on it, compared to a couple of feet where we train in Durham.
“We’ve got a wee bit of surface water but if the weather holds up and we don’t have any more rain or snow, hopefully the game will be on.
“Bournemouth are on a wonderful run since Eddie Howe’s been back.
“I saw them against Carlisle recently (the Cherries knocked them out of the FA Cup with a 3-1 win in December) and they’re all comfortable on the ball. They’ve got good individual players, but that has to be the challenge.
“I can always remember when I was a young player at Parkhead and Ibrox playing against the likes of (Mark) Hateley, (Ally) McCoist and Maurice Johnston.
“I’m quite sure Bournemouth will be hoping for an automatic promotion spot and at the very least the play-offs.
“We’ve got to say, ‘Let’s bring it on!’ If any of our players are shrinking violets we will be playing with nine or ten men.
“If these guys are technically better than us, we need to make sure they will have to be at their best for 90 minutes because we will be hounding them. We have to keep ourselves in the game, roll our sleeves up and dig in there.”
With a full squad (reserve goalkeeper Andy Rafferty apart) to pick from and hostile conditions for the visitors, there are unlikely to be many better opportunities to upset the odds.
But Hartlepool have been denied the chance to find any rhythm, the weather and Bournemouth’s FA Cup run reducing them to two games since rounding off 2012 with victory at Sheffield United.
“It’s confidence and momentum,” said an exasperated Hughes. “That’s what’s been so disappointing about it. We just need to take it on the chin.
“It’s been a bit stop-start ever since I first came here, with the floods and now the snow.
“At the same time you’re trying to duck and dive in the transfer market.
“There’s no point moaning over spilt milk and I’m trying to get the players to take responsibility. They’re certain good enough.
“We’ve got to take inspiration from any source available. We beat the league leaders on their ground and for an hour we were the better team at Shrewsbury (before drawing there a week-and-a-half ago).
“We’re trying to instill a strong character and mindset. Stevie Howard’s a strong character because he’s been about and he had experience. Young Charlie Wyke, who’s on loan from Middlesbrough, scored his first goal against Shrewsbury, so we’re hoping that gets him going.
“Jordan Richards is another one. We’ve been very, very unfortunate in a few games.
“We’ve surprised ourselves at times although it was a deserved win at Sheffield United.
“That shows we’re more than capable of beating anyone in the league.”
The home game with Colchester United – postponed at the weekend – will be played on March 5 at 7.45pm.