Preston North End boss Simon Grayson is bracing himself for a hugely competitive League One season.
PNE kick off the new campaign against Notts County at Deepdale on Saturday as one of the big favourites to win promotion to the Championship.
Their run to the play-offs last season, coupled with the strength of the current squad – which has been boosted by a number of new signings over the summer – has raised hopes among the Deepdale faithful that this will be the club’s year.
North End have performed encouragingly in pre-season – beating newly-promoted Premier League outfit Burnley 2-1, while holding last season’s Championship title winners Leicester City to a 1-1 draw last Saturday.
Their only defeat in the previous month has been a narrow 2-1 home loss to Liverpool.
Despite the optimism sweeping through Deepdale ahead of the start of the campaign, Grayson knows his men have a long, hard season ahead of them judging by the calibre of opposition they will be up against.
The PNE boss has tipped Sheffield United, Bristol City and Leyton Orient for promotion tilts, while also insisting the teams who have been relegated and promoted, from the Championship and League Two respectively, will fancy their chances.
Grayson said: “I think every club has got a great chance this season.
“They will all be going into it with optimism at the start of the season that they can be successful.
“I think when you look throughout the division Sheffield United probably underachieved a little bit in the first half of the season last year but came good under Nigel Clough.
“There’s Bristol City as well. Orient have been there or thereabouts for the past few years – they have made some good signings.
“You can’t dismiss the sides who have come up because of the momentum and the teams that have come down have Championship players, so it is going to be a tough division no matter who we are playing.”
Saturday’s opponents Notts County bolstered their squad with the acquisition of former Manchester United and Northern Ireland goalkeeper Roy Carroll.
The veteran shot-stopper – who is now aged 36 – is set to start in goal at Deepdale for the Magpies.
He almost signed for North End in the summer of 2011 – after the club had been relegated to League One.
North End manager at the time Phil Brown ran the rule over Carroll in a number of pre-season friendlies, including a penalty shoot-out defeat to Blackburn Rovers in the final of the Lancashire Senior Cup at the County Ground.
Brown passed up the opportunity to sign Carroll – instead opting for Everton’s Iain Turner, who had spent part of the previous season on loan at Deepdale.
Meanwhile, Preston are expected to announce the identity of the new club and shirt sponsors today.
They will also reveal this season’s new strip.