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Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Wilder the Don for Oxford

Sitting pretty at the top of the Conference Premier, Nobes takes a look at the renaissance of Oxford United under their promising young manager Chris Wilder.

Were Oxford boss Chris Wilder a student at the city's world famous university, you fancy he'd probably be on course for a first class degree.

As it is, the United manager will probably have to make do with the Conference Premier title and securing a return to the Football League for the Yellows.

"Making do" is to downplay what a terrific job the Yorkshireman has done since taking over at the Kassam Stadium at the end of 2008.

Oxford were in the bottom half of the Conference, a full 11 points off the play-offs and in danger of appearing at home in Non League's top division.

For a side who won the League Cup and were in the top flight during the 80s, the Oxen had hit a new nadir before the former Halifax boss assumed the reins.

What's followed has been a dramatic turnaround in fortunes. A terrific run of results in the second half of last season saw them still in contention for the top five on the final day.

In the end they missed out, but Wilder has used the disappointment to spur his team on to leading the race for promotion from the front this time around. They currently sit top of the Conference with two games in hand over their rivals.

In total, he's lost just seven of his 50 league games in charge of United and just three of them at the Kassam - where crowds are averaging around 6,000.

Not only does it show the potential at Oxfordshire's only professional club, but probably emphasises United are a club at least two divisions below where they should be.

Perhaps not for much longer though. Despite a strong challenge from Stevenage Borough, Oxford remain firm favourites to capture the Conference title. Other challengers appear to lack both the consistency and resources Wilder's team boast.

Chris Wilder has revitalised Oxford's fortunes in the last year

A poor start has cost Luton, financial problems have seen Kettering fall away, and Mansfield appear too erratic and will most likely have to settle for a place in the play-offs.

Therefore, provided the challenge of Graham Westley's Borough and a resurgent York City can be seen off, and United fans will be wary given past failure in their title race against Dagenham in 2007, Oxford should reclaim their place in the Football League.

Given the club's healthy attendances, decent resources, and a fine manager in Wilder, a second successive promotion could not then be ruled out.

History proves that the likes of Doncaster, Carlisle, and Exeter have gone straight through League Two after promotion from the Conference, so why not Oxford?

The team have already demonstrated their potential in dispatching League One Yeovil in the FA Cup this season, a game used by the manager to demonstrate the kind of fixture promotion will bring about regularly.

Not so long ago a fixture between the two would have seen the Oxen as the League One outfit. Promotion at the end of this season, and that prospect would be more than possible.

Keeping hold of Wilder, who Championship Peterborough had been interested in to fill their vacant managerial seat last November, is key to that ambition. In fact, for Oxford, it's elementary.

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