After rejecting Glentoran, I'm fully focused on Ards progress: Nixon
What a start to the new season for Ards and manager Colin Nixon. Away to champions Crusaders and then at home to his old club Glentoran.
It couldn't be more eventful for 39-year-old Nixon, who has impressed since taking charge of Ards just before Christmas in 2016.
While highly unlikely to make the top six of the Danske Bank Premiership due to the resources available to the club, few would see Nixon's side as relegation candidates heading into the 2018/19 campaign.
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Last season Glentoran offered their record appearance holder the opportunity to return to The Oval and become boss. He turned them down and signed a new deal with Ards, whose first home game on August 11 will be against the east Belfast outfit, now with Nixon's old team-mates Gary Smyth and Paul Leeman as part of the management team.
"That chapter of last season is closed for me and I've moved on," said Nixon.
"I moved on the day I made the decision. I have no axe to grind with anyone at Glentoran and I wish Gary and Paul all the best at The Oval. It will be a tough job for them and when we play Glentoran it is a game we will be aiming to win.
"But right now we are only focusing on playing Crusaders at Seaview on Monday night in our first match of the campaign.
"I have massive respect for Crues boss Stephen Baxter and all he has achieved in the game. People may say it is a good time to play Crusaders but the truth is any time you play them it is difficult because they are such a talented side.
"Opening up at Seaview is going to be tough but we'll prepare well all week and will be ready for the challenge."
Last season, Ards finished ninth. So, what is the aim this time around?
"The players know what I think we are capable of and that will remain between me and them. But for a club like Ards, the ultimate goal is to stay in the top flight," stated Nixon.
"We did well last season and I think maybe we could have done even better, but it's a tough league and I believe this season will be even tougher.
"We have realistic goals that we want to reach and at the start of the campaign we have to look at the teams in and around us and make sure we are above them."
Numerous players have left Ards in the summer, but Nixon was pleased to recruit early and feels signings such as striker Sean Noble from Ballinamallard, full-back Craig McClean from Crusaders and midfielder Kym Nelson from Glentoran can strengthen his side.
There is a sense though that Nixon himself will be the key figure in any success Ards have.
"It only seems like yesterday that I stopped playing and it is bizarre I'm now looked at as an experienced manager, but that's football," he added.
"You learn every day as a manager. There are so many things thrown at you, especially where we are and the situation we are in, it's something new every day. You have to work hard and think fast.
"I enjoy the challenge, though I admit it can be very stressful. I'm very passionate about football and I'm very keen to move Ards forward.
"It's a project I have invested in and the board have invested in me and I know where we can be in the future."
Manager: Colin Nixon
Captain: Gareth Tommons
Last season: Ninth
Ins: Craig McClean, Kym Nelson, Mark Kelly, Sean Noble, Eamon McAllister, Jason Mooney, Michael Kerr (on loan)
Outs: Michael Ruddy, Guillaume Keke, Craig McMillen, Aaron Hogg, Nathan Hanley, Scott Davidson, Luke Kelly, Rhys Neale.