WORCESTER City boss Carl Heeley says his reunion with Matt Gardiner will “add extra spice” to their Boxing Day derby against Kidderminster Harriers (3pm).
Gardiner will face City for the first time since leaving the club to become head of coaching at Harriers in July.
The 42-year-old was appointed assistant boss at Worcester in 2012 before being promoted to joint-manager alongside Heeley at the start of last season.
Heeley said he and Gardiner shared “some great times” at the Blue and Whites, including two memorable FA Cup runs.
However, he insisted they would put their friendship to one side when the teams go head-to-head at Bromsgrove’s Victoria Ground.
“Matt, John (Snape) and I had some great times together,” he said.
“Nothing replaces playing but as a management team I don’t think any of us will forget what we experienced in the cups.
“Matt did not make any secret of wanting an opportunity to go full-time so we were never going to stand in his way.
“We keep in touch, of course we do, as we are all mates.
“But for an hour-and-a-half on Boxing Day we will be on the opposite sides of the fence and will both want to win for our respective teams.
“It will add an extra spice to the game.”
Since teaming up with boss John Eustace in the summer, Gardiner has helped put Harriers on track in their bid to return to the National League.
The Reds sit in second place after beating fellow high-fliers Darlington 2-1 last Saturday.
And Heeley hailed their Worcestershire rivals as “the best team in the league”.
“I have seen them a couple of times this season and been very impressed,” he said. “On the performances I have seen they are the best team in the league so it is going to be tough for us.
“They are a very good side. Their passing and movement is exceptional and they are obviously reaping the benefits of being full-time.
“You can see that in the way they gel and understand each other.”
However, having pushed runaway leaders AFC Fylde close in a 2-1 defeat earlier this month, Heeley is confident they can go toe-to-toe with Harriers.
“We have got a big challenge in front of us but we have got some good players,” he continued.
“We are competitive as you have seen in the Fylde game when we were the better side overall so we will fancy we can pinch a result against them.”
Veteran striker Lee Hughes looks set to start against the club where he started his career after overcoming a knee injury and illness.
Captain Danny Jackman is also expected to face his former employers but ex-Harriers defender Tom Sharpe is struggling after coming off with a knee problem in Worcester’s 1-1 draw at Gainsborough Trinity last weekend.
Injured frontman Colby Bishop (knee) has been ruled out, while winger Chekaine Steele (hip) remains a doubt for 14th-placed City, who are four points above the relegation zone.
With almost 2,000 supporters expected to turn out, Heeley said he was looking forward to seeing the ground rocking.
“I had a season at Bromsgrove and remember playing in a play-off final there which we won and the atmosphere there was superb,” he said.
“To have a couple of thousand people in there on Boxing Day will be great.”