Almost a year ago to the day, Chris Wilder was spraying champagne around Sixfields after leading Northampton Town to promotion.
This afternoon, 24 hours before the first anniversary of that remarkable achievement, he hopes to be celebrating there again if Sheffield United’s place in the Championship next season is confirmed.
The significance of the date and also the location is not lost on Wilder whose team enters its meeting with his former club knowing that a win, irrespective of results elsewhere, will guarantee a top two finish.
“When you think of the timing, it’s mad isn’t it,” he said last night. “But we’re not getting ahead of ourselves because we know there’s still a job to do yet. We’ll leave all the other stuff to everyone else. We’ve got a game to try and win first.”
Wilder’s success at Northampton was phenomenal because, only months before the lifted the League Two title, the administrators and bailiffs were circling around their ground. Players went unpaid. Likewise the coaching staff. But, while chaos reigned off the pitch, on it things were serene as a 24 match unbeaten run powered them across the finishing line ahead of Bristol Rovers, AFC Wimbledon and Oxford.
Although nothing can compare with managing the club he has supported since childhood, Wilder admitted United’s latest opponents will always have a special place in his heart. And, despite the difference in size and stature, he insisted they share something in common with United too.
“I enjoyed my time there and the people made me feel fantastic,” Wilder continued. “They really cared about their football club, the same as the people here care about this one. It’s daft isn’t it, how a football club can grab hold of your life.
“If you are a Northampton Town fan, and your club looks like going to a wall, look at how they backed it. They didn’t want it to die. Here, look at how our fans want the players to achieve and how they are driving them across the line.”
Wilder and his assistant Alan Knill (pictured) spent two-and-a-half years at Sixfields before being appointed by United in May. Six points clear of second-placed Bolton Wanderers and 13 better off than Fleetwood Town in third, the visitors enter today’s match as heavy favourites. Wilder, though, understands why Northampton are likely to prove intractable opposition.
“I’m glad they are doing well. They’ve got a fantastic chairman and the manager has done well since he’s come in. It will be a tough game. They won’t want to just roll over, they won’t want to let us go home celebrating if they can help it. We’ve got another tough game and we’ll be ready for it.”