Paul Harsley wants his EDS youngsters to again embrace the unique challenge of the English Football League Trophy as City’s Under-21s prepare to set out on this season’s campaign away at Rochdale tonight.

Last season the competition proved a real high spot for the EDS squad with City reaching the last eight before being edged out by eventual finalists Sunderland.

Along the way Harsley’s squad overcame several formidable challenges – not least Rochdale whom we beat 4-2 in a hugely entertaining last 16 tie at the Crown Oil Arena in January.

And the EDS manager believes the advent of the Leasing.com Trophy, as the competition will be known this season, will once again provide invaluable experience for his young players.

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“It’s the start of a big block of games for us and it’s a challenge we are all excited about,” said Harsley.

“The squad has changed a fair bit from last year so though some lads in the squad played in last season's run, quite a few didn’t.

“Going away in midweek against league sides is a totally different challenge and environment for the players.

“This year we’ve got Rochdale, Bradford and Bolton, so two big stadiums in particular in the case of Bolton and Bradford and Rochdale we know about from last season where we had a good night.

“The difference this year is that we’ve got two League One sides and a League Two team in our group.

“Last year it was two League Two teams and a League One side, so it’s a tougher challenge and potentially we might not be able to call upon all of our most experienced players.

WATCH: Rochdale 2-4 City U21s: Match highlights

“However, it’s a brilliant tournament for the lads and we really embraced it last year and hopefully we can get a similar feeling this season.”

Under the leadership of manager Brian Barry-Murphy, League One Dale have drawn widespread praise for their commitment to a free-flowing, possession-based game and a video showing a superb 16-pass move which led to a goal during their recent 3-0 win at Southend subsequently went viral.

And Harsley believes both Rochdale and City’s commitment to attacking football, augurs well for an entertaining encounter.

“We know Rochdale try and play some good football,” Harsley added.

“I know that Southend video has been seen by many people but watching them even before that you can see they go about things in a slightly different way to some of last season’s sides and it will be an interesting test for us.

“As for us, there will be some lads coming back from internationals this morning who may play tonight and then we’ve got a league game on Saturday and the Uefa Youth League next week.

“We will mx and match our side across the games, but we can only look at tonight.

 “It’s a really busy period and Wednesday night will be a real big test but it’s one we are looking forward to.”