League One preview: Hartlepool to throw a surprise party

Betting advice from Michael Holden of Best of the Bets

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The Independent Football

Hartlepool equalled a club-record 20 games without a win when losing at home to Stevenage last weekend but the performance level improved to such an extent that we can't resist getting with the Teessiders to frustrate high-flying MK Dons in their own backyard this weekend. Back Hartlepool (+1.25) on the Asian handicap.

The League One table offers no encouragement for this bet. Pools are going down, simple as that. New boss John Hughes requires a miracle to rival any survival escape now but the former Falkirk, Hibernian and Livingston boss is making enough progress on the training ground to take the odd prize scalp and put down some eye-catching markers for next term.

Hughes has only been in charge for four matches and if he wasn't aware of the task facing him when he first walked into the club, then it was made painfully apparent as he watched his new troops get walloped 5-0 at home by Coventry in his first match. It was probably the best thing that could have happened.

Since then, Hartlepool have looked much more organised thanks to long hours spent working on the shape. An injury-time defeat at home to Oldham was followed by a handy 1-1 draw on the road at Walsall but it was last Saturday's effort against Gary Smith's men that really gets us believing in their cause.

With Pools out of the FA Cup, Hughes had an empty fortnight to put in some serious tactical groundwork and the 0-2 scoreline doesn't even begin to tell the tale of how events unfolded at Victoria Park. Hartlepool had 16 shots on goal to the visitors' seven, eight of them on target. They also won the corner count 8-1.

And yet we suspect it suits them to be reactive rather than proactive right now. The goals they conceded against the Boro should be less likely with everyone tuned-in to a defensive mindset and the Dons can be suckers for falling into the confidence trap of excessive possession without penetration.

Karl Robinson's men haven't come a cropper too often at home this season. Stevenage are the only team to have pulled-off a smash and grab raid in Buckinghamshire this season but three bottom-half teams (Preston, Yeovil and Walsall) bagged maximum points with a solitary strike last term.

Eight of the Dons' ten home games have finished under 2.5 goals since the action resumed in August and while they've finished on the right side of 1-0 scorelines against Yeovil, Crewe, Leyton Orient and Sheffield United, the margins are generally fine enough to justify a bet that returns a profit should Pools go down by the narrowest of margins.

Betting advice...

2pts Hartlepool (+1.25) to beat MK Dons on the Asian handicap at 51/50 (Bet Victor)

The Teessiders are showing encouraging signs of recovery under new boss John Hughes.