Twelve months ago Tom Clarke wrote himself into Preston North End folklore.
The 26-year-old had only just arrived at the club that summer – recruited by manager Simon Grayson after his release from Huddersfield Town.
And he did not any waste time announcing himself to the PNE fans.
His winning goal against arch-rivals Blackpool at Deepdale in the first round of the Capital One Cup means the defender will always have a special place in the hearts of Preston’s supporters no matter what.
Fast forward a year and Clarke is likely to be skipper of North End’s team tonight for the opening round of this season’s League Cup.
While a trip to Spotland to take on League One newcomers Rochdale does not capture the imagination in quite the same way as last year’s derby, Clarke will be just as happy to score the goal which takes his men through to the second round this evening, as he was this time last year.
“Last year was brilliant for me,” Clarke said.
“I was a new player, so to score against Blackpool was a great welcome for me at my new club.
“I was just glad to get the goal and help us get through to the next round.
“But it was a great moment for me at the time.
“Being a new player at the time, I did not know too much about the rivalry – I’d heard a little bit about it.
“But come matchday, you could see it all and how much it meant to the supporters.
“It was very tense but still a great game to be involved in, so to get the get the goal and the win for the fans was brilliant. It was what they were all hoping for.
“The match tonight against Rochdale probably does not have the glamour of last year but it’s the next game and one we want to win.
“It’s a game we are looking forward to.
“It’s an opportunity to get a win under our belts and move into the next round.”
Rochdale finished third in League Two last season – earning the last remaining automatic promotion slot – just three points behind eventual champions Chesterfield.
They opened the new campaign on Saturday with a narrow 1-0 home defeat to Peterborough, and Clarke knows he and his team-mates will have to guard against a group of players who will be determined to prove themselves at the higher level.
“Rochdale won’t be easy – they got promoted last season,” Clarke said
“I remember playing them in pre-season last year and obviously they have got a very good manager in Keith Hill.
“By all accounts they played well at the weekend and were unlucky to lose, so we need to be on our game tonight.”
North End began the new season with a frustrating 1-1 draw at home to Notts County at Deepdale.
After dominating the first half without scoring, Simon Grayson’s men conceded early after half-time and it was only a last-ditch strike by Joe Garner which earned the home side a point.
Clarke believes Saturday’s result was a lesson to North End that if they are to be successful this season, they must make teams pay when they are on top during matches.
“It was frustrating because obviously in the first half we were on top, creating chances and that’s when we need to be punishing teams.
“I feel like if we had scored during that period then we would have gone on to score three or four.
“It was frustrating because we came up against an experienced team in Notts County and they managed the game well after going into lead.
“Their goal was a shock to us – it was weird one really. Their lad hit shot hard and it was in before I even had chance to turn around.
“We felt the goal definitely came against the run of play – I think they had only had one maybe two chances before that goal
“But we should have killed the game off and that’s something we need to learn quickly.
“We need to be prepared that we are going to see a lot of the ball at home and teams are going to try to come here and frustrate us.
“We need to learn how to deal with that.
“But despite all that I always felt we had a goal in us – even when it got to 89 minutes and we were still losing.
“I never felt the game was lost and thankfully Joe Garner slotted it home to earn us a point.”
With usual captain John Welsh on the substitutes’ bench, Clarke was handed the captain’s armband for the first game of the season and admitted it was a honour to lead out the side.
“It was a very proud moment for me to be named captain. It’s something I’ve wanted to happen and it was a great honour for me.”