ANYONE who witnessed Rochdale’s 3-0 pre-season demolition of Town will fancy them for League II play-off success.
Keith Hill’s side looked tough, quick, well-organised and sharp, and will have been aiming to reproduce those qualities against Darlington in their semi-final first leg in the North-East today.
Wycombe host Stockport tomorrow with both second legs taking place next Saturday and the final at Wembley on Monday, May 26, when the prize will be a place alongside Town in League I next season.
Wycombe have former Town strikers Leon Knight and Delroy Facey in the ranks, but Darlington must do without another ex-Galpharm man, Pawel Abbott, who is ruled out with a knee injury.
The man who starred in Town’s League II play-off triumph over Mansfield at Cardiff in 2004 has had more than his fair share of fitness problem this time around, with his nine goals coming from just 16 starts.
Knight has chalked up 10 goals for Wycombe, while Facey, who is on loan from Gillingham, was on the scoresheet alongside him as Bradford were beaten 2-1 a week ago.
“Delroy has been terrific since he arrived,” said manager Paul Lambert.
“He is like all the lads, who have been absolutely brilliant all season. They have run through walls for me, given absolutely everything they have got and it’s an absolute privilege to manage them.
“One thing is for sure – we will give it everything we have got against Stockport and I am confident going into it, but more importantly, so are the players.”
Stockport boss Jim Gannon has told his players league form counts for nothing going into the play-offs after County beat Wycombe 6-0 at Edgeley Park earlier in the season.
“That result is irrelevant now. Whoever was fourth, fifth, sixth or seventh, it doesn’t matter. It’s just us against them and we’re looking forward to it.
“As you reflect on the season, everybody might be more fearful of Rochdale because of their form going into the play-offs, but we beat them home and away.”
Rochdale boss Hill, for his part, has dismissed talk of the attraction of a possible all-Greater Manchester final.
“I’m not bothered who we meet at Wembley if we get there,” he said.
“Whether it’s Stockport or Wycombe, I don’t mind. Either way it would be a great occasion.
“It’s something we’re aiming for and we’re very close to achieving that aim.
“You can smell it now, you can almost feel it, but we’ve got to do a lot of work between now and Wembley. We must apply ourselves and re-focus for a two-legged semi-final.”
Whoever wins the play-offs will accompany League II champions MK Dons, Peterborough and Hereford into League I next season.
MK and Peterborough have both been opponents of Town within the last four years.
But it’s 28 since Hereford appeared on the fixture list, with United winning 1-0 at Leeds Road and Town 3-1 at Edgar Street in the closing weeks of the 1979-80 Fourth Division title campaign.
Coming into League I from the other direction are Leicester, who were relegated after a dramatic final day of Championship action.
It will be a first appearance outside the top two divisions for the East Midlands club, who entered league football as Leicester Fosse way back in 1894.
Their last meeting with Town was in 1995-96, when Brian Horton’s men won 3-1 at the then-McAlpine before the Foxes scored a 2-1 win at Filbert Street on their way to promotion to the Premier League.