Although a lot has been made of Sheffield United’s rise in recent years, it could be argued that Chris Wilder would not have been able to achieve the success that he has at the club without his experiences at Oxford United and Northampton Town.
After moving to the Kassam Stadium in 2008 after a seven-year spell at Halifax Town, the 51-year-old missed out on securing a top-five finish in his debut season in charge of the Yellows before launching a challenge for the Conference title a year later.
Having led the standings at Christmas, a bad run of form for Oxford saw them have to settle for the play-offs where they would gain promotion to the Football League via a 3-1 win over York City in the final of the competition. Following four more years with the U’s, Wilder decided that it was time for a new challenge and so when Northampton came calling, he decided to make the switch.
Inheriting a side who were in need of a miracle to avoid relegation to the Conference, the former Alfreton boss entered the last two matches of the 2013/14 campaign needing two victories. Instead of opting for experience, Wilder decided to hand teenager Ivan Toney a start against Dagenham & Redbridge in what turned out to be a masterstroke as the forward scored twice in a 3-0 victory before backing it up with another goal in a 3-1 win against Oxford a week later.
These results kept the Cobblers in League Two and following a year of consolidations at Sixfields, Wilder assembled a squad which would go on to secure promotion as champions in 2016. This remarkable turnaround in fortunes was even more impressive when you consider that Northampton had received a winding-up order during this particular period before Kelvin Thomas eventually saved the club (via the BBC).
Wilder’s experience of overcoming adversity in the past could prove to be vital during the culmination of the current Championship campaign. With the Blades third in the league standings and three points behind automatic promotion rivals Leeds United, they cannot afford any more slip-ups if they are to finish in the top-two in May.
Having failed to pick up victories in their last two games, some United fans may be concerned about the mental strength of the players at Bramall Lane. However, whereas last season saw the club fall away at the back-end of the year, Wilder will not let his side repeat the same mistakes, especially when you consider that he has a much-better squad at his disposal.
If the Blades do however miss out to Leeds, they should not fear the prospect of the play-offs despite their miserable record in the competition. With the top three in the second tier being well ahead of the rest of the division in terms of consistency and quality, it would be incredibly surprising if Wilder does not lead his side to the Premier League via this particular avenue in May.
What do you think Blades fans? Can you club overcome recent adversity to secure promotion? Will Wilder’s previous experiences help him gain an edge over Marcelo Bielsa? Let us know below.
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