Football: Curbishley's tough challenge

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The Independent Online
BRIAN KIDD has told his Blackburn Rovers side they cannot expect to walk straight back into the Premiership. The 1995 champions begin life in the Nationwide League against Port Vale at Ewood Park today and Kidd says they face a hard battle. "We won't get any ideas above our station and instead we'll keep a bit of humility about us of where and what we are," he said. "It's going to be a long, tough season."

The Port Vale manager, Brian Horton, has refused to reveal whether Kevin Pilkington or Paul Musselwhite will don the goalkeeper's jersey.

The Charlton Athletic manager, Alan Curbishley, rates the First Division particularly tough this season. The Londoners begin at home to Barnsley and Curbishley said: "It's such a strong league down here that it could be any three from 14 teams. In some respects it's a Premiership One."

The Barnsley manager, Dave Bassett, is looking forward to the challenge. "It'll be a full house at Charlton, and The Valley is always a difficult place to go," he said.

Bolton Wanderers are also dreaming of a return to the Premiership and their manager, Colin Todd, claims they are over the disappointment of losing in the play-off final. "Time is a great healer, there is now a buzz of anticipation in the dressing-room," he said before their opening game at Tranmere Rovers.

George Burley must pick up his Ipswich Town players after they lost in the play-offs for the third successive season. The club begins the new campaign at home to David Platt's Nottingham Forest and Burley said: "We've been in the play-offs for the last three years and we want to be up there again."

The Portsmouth manager, Alan Ball, has warned fans not to expect instant success after last season's desperate fight against relegation even though the club is under new ownership. "The ambition this season is to stabilise the ship," he said.

Portsmouth are at home to Sheffield United, whose new manager, Adrian Heath, said: "There will be a few butterflies about no doubt, but I'm really looking forward to it."

The new Stockport County manager, Andy Kilner, relishes the start to the season after taking over from Gary Megson. Stockport open at Grimsby Town and Kilner said: "I've been waiting for this moment since I started in the job, I'm glad we can finally get the season under way."

Brian Little is upbeat going into West Bromwich's opening game against Norwich City at The Hawthorns even though he has had little time to prepare. "In an ideal world I would have had around five weeks to work with the players," the new manager said. "But the players have been well trained by Denis Smith and they have been coached by John Gorman, who is an excellent coach."

First Division newcomers Walsall cannot wait for their debut game, at home to Swindon Town. The manager, Ray Graydon, said: "We had a tough time in pre-season with three hard games, but all that is behind us now and we are looking forward to the new season."