Preston Grasshoppers face a real baptism of fire when they reacquaint themselves with the National League Two North next season.
Paul Arnold’s men – who won promotion last season after winning the North Premier title – have been handed a testing opening month of the campaign.
On the opening day, they travel to Chester – who finished seventh last season – before welcoming derby rivals Fylde, relegated from National League One, to Lightfoot Lane the next week.
A trip to top-six side Huddersfield then follows, before Hoppers entertain another highly-fancied side in the shape of Sedgley Park, who reached the play-off final last season – losing to Oxfordshire outfit Chinnor 40-31.
Arnold admits his players will have to hit the ground running from the first whistle if they are to get any joy in their opening four games.
“It’s a tough start,” said the head coach.
“Chester are a very good side. They have finished seventh the last couple of years.
“I think Fylde are going to be favourites. They have managed to keep hold of a lot of their squad from last season.
“Hull Ionians who they came down with last season have lost a quite few players to Rotherham, whereas Fylde have kept most of theirs so I expect them to be strong.
“Huddersfield finished sixth last season and Sedgley Park got to the play-off final and have recruited well this summer.
“But there are going to be no easy games next season – it’s a brutal division.”
Arnold revealed that his number one aim next season is to ensure the team maintain their status as a National League outfit.
But he believes his men will relish the prospect of being one of the underdogs this year, which is a big change from last season when they were expected to win every game.
“I think for us, it’s a consolidation year,” said Arnold.
“It’s about staying in the division first and foremost.
“Maybe the following season, we might look to push on but this year is about staying in the division.
“I would take mid-table at the end of the season – I would take mid-table now.”
Arnold is prepared to keep faith with the vast majority of last season’s squad, who he believes will have a point to prove that they are good enough to compete in the division above.
He is also hopeful of enticing four new players to the club, with two of them expected to be announced imminently.
Three players who have left and will not be reporting for fitness tests on Thursday ahead of pre-season training next week are Niall Crossley, Matt Frings and Sam Gale.