Alan Hardy has total faith in Neal Ardley ahead of his Notts County baptism of

Football has a habit of throwing up strange coincidences and it’s dealt us another one this weekend as we prepare to go into a Nottinghamshire derby with a new manager for the second time in two years.

Back in January 2017, shortly after I had taken over the club, the first task facing Kevin Nolan was to earn us a result against our closest rivals Mansfield Town.

Neal Ardley faces the same baptism of fire in his first league match in charge this Saturday, although this time the game is at One Call Stadium rather than the more homely surroundings of Meadow Lane.

Kevin earned us a hard-fought draw on his big day, halting a long run of defeats and providing the springboard for us to comfortably retain our EFL status – an achievement I’ll be forever grateful to him for.

Hopefully Neal can have a similar impact this weekend but, with us still only in early December, it certainly won’t make or break our season whichever way the result goes.

From my point of view the most important aspect of a victory would be the joy it brings to our supporters, who have been starved of derby-day success since we beat the Stags 3-2 on their own patch back in 2005.

There have been Football League trophy wins for us since then but nothing compares to taking three points off ‘the enemy’ in a league fixture.

A win would be the perfect ‘thank you’ to our fans, who have stuck by us brilliantly throughout a very disappointing season so far, and would give Neal and his players a huge lift going into the busy Christmas period.

It certainly won’t be easy against a Mansfield side who have lost only one match this season and considering we have a number of key players either still missing or lacking match sharpness following injury.

But I have every faith in Neal to send out a side who will go toe-to-toe with Mansfield in terms of effort, commitment and desire while also harnessing the undoubted quality we have within our ranks.

We’ll be backed in excellent numbers and I ask everyone in the away end to give Neal a brilliant reception and get right behind the players from the off. Our supporters truly can make a difference.