After 36 successive seasons in The Football League's basement division Rochdale are at last back up to npower League 1 level - and they are loving every minute of their long-awaited return, says Manager Keith Hill.

Having led his team to promotion the former Dale central defender, who spent five years of his playing career at Spotland and took over the managerial reins in December 2006, has overseen a fine start to the new campaign.

With six League 1 games played they are fifth in the table and only one point below leaders Peterborough United. "It's a great start and special time to be at Rochdale," Hill told

"I'm really pleased with the development of the football club, the development of the squad and the development in respect of the points we're gaining.

"We were ready for this, though. Pre-season gave us a great opportunity to work on our strategies, our strengths and on trying to make sure we would be well prepared for any eventualities.

"We've got some great spirit, some very good football players and we're scoring goals. At this moment in time we are over-achieving, but we're enjoying that - we're enjoying the week's work that is preparing us to try and win football matches."

Hill has had to re-structure his squad after losing several key players during the close season, among them 20-goal striker Chris Dagnall and defenders Tom Kennedy, Nathan Stanton and Craig Dawson.

At least Hill has Dawson, last season's League 2 Player of the Year, back on loan following his transfer to Premier League club West Bromwich Albion.

Also in on loan are Manchester City midfielder Andrew Tutte and Celtic defender Josh Thompson, players who have slotted perfectly into the Dale squad says Hill.

"Andrew and Josh have come into our environment from higher-placed clubs but they have respected our players, they have earned respect from our players and that's why they are part of a well-functioning squad," said the Manager.

"We've had players in the past who haven't done that. They've thought they were better than the players they were playing with - but once they think they're more valuable as an individual than the rest of the squad, than the team, than myself and my staff, then it's been 'bye-bye'."

Hill may have been happy to wave bye-bye to some former players, but he has no intention of allowing League 1 to bid farewell to Dale through demotion back to the basement. Instead he has what he believes are reasonable and achievable ambitions.

"Our expectations are League 1 security," he said. "Quite often teams who haven't got good resources get into League 1 and find themselves in the bottom four after four or five games. But we've made steady progress and we want to continue that.

"Steady progress for this football club means making sure we don't financially overspend but that we safeguard the future of the club, whether that's in League 1, League 2 or the Championship.

"The aspirations and ambitions of the players and myself go beyond League 1, but we have to be realistic and so if this time next season we are still in this division we'll be very, very happy."

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