Dale ready for season opener

Date published: 07 August 2008

Just over two months since Rochdale's play-off final heartache at Wembley, they are ready and raring to kick start a new season with a squad that once again has the potential to reach if play-offs and perhaps this time go one step further to gain that elusive promotion to League One, a feat not achieved since 1969.

First up for Keith Hill's men is a trip to Grimsby this Saturday, kick off 3pm. Grimsby have been welcome opposition for Hill, who has a one hundred percent record against the Mariners since he took over at Dale in December 2006.

Ex-Dale boss Alan Buckley, now in charge at Blundell Park, knows his side are in for a tough opening fixture, describing Dale as one of the best equipped sides in the division, complimenting the togetherness of Keith Hill's squad and their fitness levels.

On the playing side Keith Hill has a pretty much fully fit squad to choose from, with only James Spencer, Marcus Holness and Joe Thompson currently injured. All three are likely to play a part this term but are not believed to be part of Keith Hill's strongest XI.

In terms of the starting line-up against Grimsby, Sam Russell is certain to start in goal, while a likely back four of Simon Ramsden, Tom Kennedy, Rory McArdle and Nathan Stanton should play ahead of him.

Into the midfield and the main talking point will be who starts alongside skipper Gary Jones, who will make a club record number of league appearances when he takes to the field on Saturday. Candidates for the other central midfield position are pre-season signings Clark Keltie and Ciaran Toner. Toner could line-up against the side that released him in the summer but Hill is perhaps more likely to field Keltie, who has impressed throughout pre-season.

Adam Rundle is sure to start on the left wing but with Will Buckley having had an impressive pre-season, Kallum Higginbotham faces a fight for his shirt on the opposite side. Expect Higginbotham to get the nod on Saturday but it may not be long before Buckley is a regular starter.

Up front Hill has a welcome headache, with four strikers fit and raring to go. Both last season's top scorer, Adam Le Fondre, and Chris Dagnall played alongside each other in the last pre-season friendly at Southport but it is thought that only one of them will start alongside one of the taller strikers. That leaves Lee Thorpe, who scored on his return to action at Southport, or Jon Shaw, who signed from Halifax in the summer but has had a bit of a torrid time in front of goal during the pre-season games.

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