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."

Arts and Entertainment
Lou Reed distorted the truth about his upbringing, and since his death in 2013, biographers and memoirists have added to the myths
musicThe truth about Lou Reed's upbringing beyond the biographers' and memoirists' myths
News
people
News
Ed Miliband received a warm welcome in Chester
election 2015
Life and Style
Apple CEO Tim Cook announces the Apple Watch during an Apple special even
fashionIs the Apple Watch for you? Well, it depends if you want it for the fitness tech, or for the style
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

NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

Let the propaganda wars begin - again

'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

Japan's incredible long-distance runners

Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

Tom Drury: The quiet American

His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace
You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

Dave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
Beige is back: The drab car colours of the 1970s are proving popular again

Beige to the future

Flares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's dishes highlight the delicate essence of fresh cheeses

Bill Granger cooks with fresh cheeses

More delicate on the palate, milder, fresh cheeses can also be kinder to the waistline
Aston Villa vs Liverpool: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful,' says veteran Shay Given

Shay Given: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful'

The Villa keeper has been overlooked for a long time and has unhappy memories of the national stadium – but he is savouring his chance to play at Wembley
Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own - Michael Calvin

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own