STEVE EVANS says his Rotherham United side have been handed the proverbial baptism of fire at the start of the new season.
Millers play their first game in the third tier since May, 2007 when they visit the Alexandra Stadium this afternoon, with a glamour home tie with neighbours Sheffield Wednesday following in an eagerly-anticipated Capital One Cup encounter on Tuesday night at a packed New York Stadium.
Next Saturday, the Millers then kick off their home programme against Simon Grayson’s much-fancied Preston North End, whom Evans insists will prove the real promotion deal.
Manager Evans said: “It’s a tough start. Crewe always traditionally start the season particularly well and that comes from being a young, hungry and good passing side when the pitches and weather are nice and the sun is on their backs.
“Then there is the little matter of hosting Sheffield Wednesday and I have nothing but admiration for that football club and then we have who I think will be the big dark horses to be champions in Preston. When I look at the recruitment Simon Grayson has done, I believe they can ultimately be champions.
“But I believe over the course of 46 games, we will have a chance of breaking into that top (nine or 10) group. Only time will tell.
“We had a real focus and hunger last season when people were writing us off. If we have the same hunger and focus this time, then we will embrace League One. I hope we can go and surprise a few people.
“There are nine or 10 clubs and if we break into the pack of them, we will be challenging for the play-offs.
“That’s a big, big ask. But we have players who have played internationals and in the SPL and players who have played many games in League One and the Championship.”
Much of the Millers’ goalscoring thrust will lay at the feet of new loan signing Matt Tubbs, whom Evans is confident will prosper in League One surroundings, having played there last season with promoted Bournemouth.
He added: “He’s a fantastic goalscorer, but his biggest asset is his work-rate.
“Defenders know if they give Tubbsy half a yard, he will punish them.”