Mansfield Town boss Steve Evans is relishing taking on Championship high-flyers Cardiff City and good friend Neil Warnock who Evans said had helped him through some dark times.
The sides were paired at the Cardiff Stadium next month in Monday’s FA Cup third round draw after Stags easily disposed of National League Guiseley 3-0 the day before.
“We wanted to be at home - I would not have minded Neil Warnock bringing his troops here,” said Evans.
“If we couldn’t be at home, like every other club we’d have preferred a big club away in the Premier League.
“But we are going away to a club that’s second in the Championship against a man that is a personal friend of mine who I have a fantastic relationship with.
“He is, in my opinion, a fantastic manager. Everywhere he’s been he’s been hugely successful and he will be at Cardiff.
“It is a formidable task for us. I said on national television he will take Cardiff to the Premier League this season and I still believe that.
“I have a lot of respect for Cardiff and the people behind the scenes. We’re looking forward to seeing them and doing battle on the day.”
Evans and Warnock continue their race for the most promotions as a manager with Evans on nine and Warnock on eight.
“I think he is one behind but he’ll probably make up for it this year unless we go up,” smiled Evans.
“He is a really good man. How do you judge that? When you have down days – and we all have down days – Neil Warnock has been there for me as a friend and that’s when it’s important.
“He has been there for me on some dark days and you never forget that. I wish him every success.
“He is a wonderful man and a football purist. I have turned up at some very lowly non-League grounds and there has been me and Warnock sitting there with our big coats on.
“I’ll never forget he told me the trait of working hard and working smart together – it’s no good thinking you’re smart if you don’t work hard.”
Evans knows exactly what to expect from a Warnock side.
He said: “They will be big, strong, and physical and he will be demanding from the side.
“It will be noisy in your left ear if he’s on the left of me – and he probably thinks it’s the same with me.
“He knows we won’t give an inch, he certainly won’t. They are always well organised. Kevin Blackwell does a great job behind the scenes and deserves enormous credit.
“He gets them meticulously organised and then the general, Mr Warnock himself, steps in and does the final bits that make them potentially a great side.
“Andy Dibble is also there who, of course, worked for me.”
With Cardiff challenging for the Premier League, Evans is under no illusions how far apart the two clubs are in all aspects.
“The gulf is massive,” he said. “You have managers in League Two who’ve never been in the Championship and wouldn’t know how to describe it. You can only describe it when you’ve been somewhere.
“If you have a bottom six or bottom seven side in the Championship then the gulf is not so big. But when you’re looking at the elite – they are top sides with top players.
“We’re looking forward to it, but we’ll worry about it when we drive out this stadium after playing Carlisle on January 1st. There’s a lot of games to play before then.”
With the FA Cup third round taking place over the weekend of 6th January, the home League Two clash with Lincoln City will need rearranging.