Rochdale will get a sneak preview of League One’s stand-out team this evening at Spotland.
That is the view of Dale boss Keith Hill, who has tipped Preston to win promotion to the Championship.
After Rochdale won promotion from League Two in May, the two clubs are primed to face each other in the league later in the season.
But first, they will meet in the first round of the Capital One Cup and Hill is under no illusions as to the difficulties his side face this evening.
The Spotland boss knows his club cannot compete financially with virtually every other club in League One – but they can compete by working hard both on the pitch and training ground.
Hill was delighted with the effort shown on Saturday as his men narrowly lost 1-0 at home to Peterborough United, who reached the play-offs last season
“We can’t build up negative pressure because if you look at the league we can’t compete financially with any team really,” Hill said.
“But we can compete in other ways, like we did on Saturday. We can compete by working on the training pitch with our plans and we’ll have another plan for Preston tonight.
“We hope we can execute that plan but let’s be right, Preston for me are the stand-out favourites in this division.
“Last season in League One it was Wolves and this season, I think it’s Preston. “I think they’re really geared for automatic promotion.”
Rochdale’s bid to be competitive this season at the higher level received a blow before a ball was even kicked.
They lost young striker Scott Hogan at the end of July after the 22-year-old was snapped up by Championship new boys Brentford.
He scored 19 goals in 40 appearances for Dale last season and moved to Griffin Park for an undisclosed fee.
The money Rochdale received for Hogan will not be reinvested into the team – much of it will go towards safeguarding the club’s future.
Hill has managed to secure many of last season’s heroes on new contracts, including Jamie Allen, Oliver Lancashire, Bastien Hery, Ian Henderson and player-coach Brian Barry-Murphy.
He has also managed to boost his forward line after the loss of Hogan with the acquisition of Calvin Andrew on a two-year deal from Manasfield Town.
There have been distractions off the pitch as well, with the club making attempts to buy back their stadium.
Nevertheless, PNE boss Simon Grayson is expecting a stern test this evening.
“I think Rochdale is going to be a tough test for us,” Grayson said. “They had a fantastic season last year, winning promotion.
“They will have been disappointed with their result at the weekend and, like any side, they will be looking to get their first win as soon as possible.
“We know what to expect from Rochdale. They are a very good footballing team.
“Obviously they have lost one of their main assets from last season in Scott Hogan.
“But I think Keith Hill is looking to give opportunities to some younger players so we know it’s going to be a tough test.”