THE game was long over as a contest when the substitutions were made.

City were 4-0 down inside an hour at Notts County and heading towards their worst opening-day loss in history when Stuart McCall summoned the pair for action.

It was not a debut that Gareth Evans or James Hanson will look back on too fondly – even with the presence of former England World Cup boss Sven-Goran Eriksson in his short-lived role as the hosts’ head of football.

Twelve years later, Evans and Hanson are both likely to be on the pitch when the City midfielder clocks up his 100th league appearance with the club.

Seven months into his second spell at Valley Parade, Evans is set to be the latest to reach the milestone – with Hanson’s Grimsby the opposition.

“I remember that Notts County game really well,” recalled Evans. “We lost 5-0, Kasper Schmeichel was in goal, Ben Davies was right back and there was a massive media surrounding the game because of Sven-Goran Eriksson being in League Two.

“I can still recall looking over at Sven and he must have had 60 cameras in front of him. It was just a weird day but obviously a very disappointing result.”

Evans, who is now only eight off 500 career league games, had a season under his belt for Macclesfield before making his first City move in 2009. For Hanson, it was all new after part-time football at Guiseley.

Evans laughed: “He was a head on a stick!

“He was unknown quantity coming from Guiseley and he had that reputation from working at the Co-op and all that stuff.

“You didn’t know what to make of him but the club were at the stage when they had to take a chance on players like James Hanson. He just happened to be one of those that paid off.

“You could see his desire to improve every day. He knew what his strengths and weaknesses – he very much tried to play to his strengths and work on the other parts of his game.

“I’m not surprised to see that he’s had a really decent career and it will be good to see him again.

“He’s a massive aerial presence and I’m sure the gaffers will let the lads know that. But I don’t think it’s any secret.”

Evans is 20 league games into his City return since signing from Portsmouth and feels there is a more professional air about the club than before.

“It’s the ambition and things that are in place now,” he added. “Going back 10 years, we’d change at Valley Parade, drive down to the training pitch, get caked in mud because there was no grass on it and then have to get back in our cars back to the ground and get changed.

“Then you’d go home with no food. But it’s totally different now and it’s nice to benefit from the strides the club have made since.”

City’s season has certainly changed dramatically from the scrabble to keep out of the bottom two before Christmas.

With a five-point gap to the play-offs, Evans is excited to head into the final month with something to get their teeth into.

“It’s nice that we’re fighting for promotion rather than something negative like trying to survive relegation.

“I’ve been at clubs before where seasons fizzle out. You’re not going up or down and it just makes the last month seem like six months.

“It’s exciting going into the games now thinking that we can potentially win the three points and then go into the dressing room and see the other results. Hopefully, we can get to where we want to be.

“It’s a good time of year to be playing teams like Grimsby who are fighting for their lives. They have something to play for and it makes things more interesting.”