Simon Hart: Chris Wilder granted the time to have Oxford dreaming of old glories

Life beyond the Premier League: In five years they have risen from the Conference to top of League Two

Thursday is the anniversary of a fondly remembered night for longer-serving Oxford United supporters. It was exactly 30 years ago this evening that Jim Smith's Third Division side beat Manchester United 2-1 in the League Cup fourth round, Steve Biggins' extra-time header sealing victory in the second replay of a tie that was played on the sloping pitch of their old Manor Ground home only after Robert Maxwell, then Oxford chairman, had won a toss against Martin Edwards, his United counterpart.

Maxwell is long gone and the Manor Ground too, yet almost three decades after Smith led Oxford into the top flight on the back of two successive promotions – a rise culminating in their 1986 Milk Cup triumph under Maurice Evans – optimism is in the air again. Saturday marks five years since manager Chris Wilder took over at the Kassam Stadium. In that time, they have risen from 16th in the Conference to top of League Two.

It has been slow but steady under Wilder, whose team returned to the Football League via a Wembley play-off win in 2010 and ended the last two seasons ninth in League Two. "In five years we have gradually moved forward, sometimes not at a pace some would want – people always wants success in an instant," Wilder told The Independent. "There is big expectation because of the history but we have to handle that and I think we've handled it pretty well."

Wilder, 46, had managed at non-league Alfreton Town and Halifax Town, leading the latter to a Conference play-off final, before he became Oxford's 11th manager this century. "Part of me getting the job was I'd had to deal with tight budgets and we're still in that situation where we get value for money."

They may have been a top-flight club but Oxford are only tenants at the Kassam Stadium, the ground still rented to them by former owner Firoz Kassam, who sold the Manor Ground and left in 2006 just weeks before they lost their Football League place. Money must be spent wisely yet there have been steps in the right direction, including a move to the excellent facilities at Oxford's BMW Mini plant. "We were at a one-pitch training ground five years ago," said Wilder.

With the support of chairman Ian Lenagan, also owner of Wigan Warriors, the club have invested £200,000 in a new sports science department, and another £150,000 on creating a development squad for first-year professionals. "The club have always produced a lot of young players but when they went out of the Football League, that was the first aspect that suffered," said Wilder, noting that five home-grown teenagers having already played for the first team this season.

It is not all about the young ones, though. "We've got a good group of senior players that are battle-hardened," said Wilder, whose team have the only unbeaten away record in the Football League. Their experienced spine runs from Ryan Clarke, who has conceded fewer goals than any other League Two keeper, to former Premier League striker Dave Kitson, 33, who joined last summer.

"Dave's desire is first-class for a player who, in his own words, is in the twilight of his career. He is a selfless player and has created numerous goals." There is spirit too. Kitson's 90th-minute winner against Dagenham & Redbridge last Saturday was the sixth time they have scored a result-changing goal in the final 10 minutes.

Wilder's contract ends in the summer and though talks are planned for the new year, he spoke to Portsmouth when their manager's job was vacant. Yet his focus is on winning promotion with Oxford. "I understand the club want to be successful and so do I," he said. It underlines the benefits of long-term planning.

"[League Managers' Association chief executive] Richard Bevan said three of the top four mangers in their respective leagues are the longest-serving ones – myself, Russell Slade at Leyton Orient and Arsène Wenger at Arsenal. Managers need time to get their ideas in. I have had time which I am thankful of and still know we have to produce but we feel we are doing that."

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

Where the spooks get their coffee fix: The busiest Starbucks in the US is also the most secretive

The secret CIA Starbucks

The coffee shop is deep inside the agency's forested Virginia compound
Revealed: How the Establishment closed ranks over fallout from Loch Ness Monster 'sighting'

How the Establishment closed ranks over fallout from Nessie 'sighting'

The Natural History Museum's chief scientist was dismissed for declaring he had found the monster
One million Britons using food banks, according to Trussell Trust

One million Britons using food banks

Huge surge in number of families dependent on emergency food aid
Excavation at Italian cafe to fix rising damp unearths 2,500 years of history in 3,000 amazing objects

2,500 years of history in 3,000 amazing objects

Excavation at Italian cafe to fix rising damp unearths trove
The Hubble Space Telescope's amazing journey, 25 years on

The Hubble Space Telescope's amazing journey 25 years on

The space telescope was seen as a costly flop on its first release
Did Conservative peer Lord Ashcroft quit the House of Lords to become a non-dom?

Did Lord Ashcroft quit the House of Lords to become a non-dom?

A document seen by The Independent shows that a week after he resigned from the Lords he sold 350,000 shares in an American company - netting him $11.2m
Apple's ethnic emojis are being used to make racist comments on social media

Ethnic emojis used in racist comments

They were intended to promote harmony, but have achieved the opposite
Sir Kenneth Branagh interview: 'My bones are in the theatre'

Sir Kenneth Branagh: 'My bones are in the theatre'

The actor-turned-director’s new company will stage five plays from October – including works by Shakespeare and John Osborne
The sloth is now the face (and furry body) of three big advertising campaigns

The sloth is the face of three ad campaigns

Priya Elan discovers why slow and sleepy wins the race for brands in need of a new image
How to run a restaurant: As two newbies discovered, there's more to it than good food

How to run a restaurant

As two newbies discovered, there's more to it than good food
Record Store Day: Remembering an era when buying and selling discs were labours of love

Record Store Day: The vinyl countdown

For Lois Pryce, working in a record shop was a dream job - until the bean counters ruined it
Usher, Mary J Blige and Will.i.am to give free concert as part of the Global Poverty Project

Mary J Blige and Will.i.am to give free concert

The concert in Washington is part of the Global Citizen project, which aims to encourage young people to donate to charity
10 best tote bags

Accessorise with a stylish shopper this spring: 10 best tote bags

We find carriers with room for all your essentials (and a bit more)
Paul Scholes column: I hear Manchester City are closing on Pep Guardiola for next summer – but I'd also love to see Jürgen Klopp managing in England

Paul Scholes column

I hear Manchester City are closing on Pep Guardiola for next summer – but I'd also love to see Jürgen Klopp managing in England
Jessica Ennis-Hill: 'I just want to give it my best shot'

Jessica Ennis-Hill: 'I just want to give it my best shot'

The heptathlete has gone from the toast of the nation to being a sleep-deprived mum - but she’s ready to compete again. She just doesn't know how well she'll do...