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Hill climb starts again for Rochdale with Wilbraham and Clough leading from the front

By John Lyons

ROCHDALE may have suffered against Sunderland last weekend, but upbeat manager Keith Hill is confident his team can hold their own in League One this term.

Despite their 4-1 reverse against the high-flying Black Cats, Dale were safely tucked in in mid-table, following a heartening three-match unbeaten run.

It’s been a satisfactory start for a club who haven’t got the resources of third tier big-hitters like Sunderland, Portsmouth – who they host next week – and leaders Peterborough.

And don’t forget that Rochdale had to fight tooth and nail to preserve their precious League One status last season. Indeed, it took a nerve-wracking 1-0 victory at home against Charlton on the last day of the season to escape the drop.

Boss Hill, who has twice led Rochdale out of League Two, said: “Historically, we’re not a League One club, so I want us to try to retain that newness and freshness.

“We can’t afford to disrespect League One because we know it can be taken away from you very quickly.

“I think it’s getting harder year-on-year, but we want to win as many games as we can. We believe we are better than we were last season.

“We want to have a healthier season and a less stressful conclusion to the season than we had last time!

“Avoiding relegation has to be our top priority and it took us 46 games last season to do that. In previous seasons it took us 30 to 35 games to be safe.

“I think we are good enough to do it quicker than last season and if you do that, you have to try to get to the play-offs. Ten games from the end, anyone has an outside chance.

“We have recruited, we have retained and we are trying to be as successful as we can on and off the pitch.

“We are spending the right amount of money without going bankrupt.”

Hill certainly added experience to his ranks this summer by bringing in striker Aaron Wilbraham.

The 38-year-old memorably scored the goal to keep Bolton in the Championship last season, but has now dropped down a rung to League One.

While he has yet to break his duck this term, Hill has been pleased with his overall contribution.

“One of the reasons I brought him in was to help the younger lads,” said the 49-year-old. “He’s got great experience, he knows the league and he’s been very successful.

“The likes of Aaron, Jim McNulty, David Perkins, Calvin Andrew and Ian Henderson, our talisman, have good attributes, but they still have the ambition to play and be successful.”

(Photo: PA Images)

Another signing that raised eyebrows this term was the loan capture of Nottingham Forest’s Zach Clough until January. The former Bolton whizz-kid has found his chances limited at the City Ground and is eager to get some games under his belt in League One.

An ankle injury has disrupted the 23-year-old’s start in Dale colours, but Hill is confident he will make a big impact.

“He was flying against Bury (in the Checkatrade Trophy) and we thought ‘we’ve got a good player here’, but he’s rolled his ankle and that’s put him back,” he said.

“Hopefully he will be training next week and raring to go again soon.”

As Dale bid to prove themselves all over again, Hill is relishing the challenge of mixing with the big boys, particularly the likes of Sunderland and Portsmouth.

“They are great games and games we want to be competitive in,” he added. “League One has got a lot of cream.

“The likes of Sunderland and Portsmouth are Premier League clubs playing in League One and it’s only a matter of time before they start climbing again.

“It’s a learning curve for me and my players and you learn more from those opportunities.”

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