Smith hails Wilder on fourth anniversary

Herald Series: Chris Wilder is introduced as Oxford United manager on December 21, 2008, flanked by Kelvin Thomas and Jim Smith Chris Wilder is introduced as Oxford United manager on December 21, 2008, flanked by Kelvin Thomas and Jim Smith

Chris Wilder celebrates four years as Oxford United manager today.

And the man who played a huge role in bringing him to the Kassam Stadium believes the impact he has had on the club should not be underestimated.

Jim Smith says Wilder has done a ‘first-class job’ since taking over on December 21, 2008.

And, if given the right backing in January, the United legend says this season is anything but over.

Although the U’s lie 18th in the npower League Two table, they are just eight points off the play-off places.

“In this day and age, to be in charge of a club for four years is some achievement,” Smith said of the ninth longest-serving manager in England’s top four divisions.

“Chris has proved himself to be an excellent manager, and has done a first-class job at Oxford.

“Although this season hasn’t really gone to plan so far, if Chris is given the tools he needs in January, Oxford can really push on because with the points gap as it is, there’s still everything to play for.”

Smith was on the board at United when the search started, led by chairman Kelvin Thomas, to find a replacement for Darren Patterson.

The duo sifted through all the applications and came to the same conclusion – that Wilder was the man for the job.

“His application was very good indeed, but so were many others to be fair,” Smith said.

“But when we met him, his face-to-face interview was the best by far - outstanding.

“As you would expect with a big job like Oxford, there were a lot of names in the running, but Chris was the stand-out candidate by some distance.

“In his interview he was very organised, he had a clear idea of what was expected and knew how he would achieve it, and showed that he knew the game inside out.”

Smith added: “When I was at Oxford I first came across Chris when we played Halifax, where he the manager.

“Even then he was somebody that stuck in my head because his team were very impressive, tried to play in the right way, and the way that he presented himself was very good.”

When Wilder came to Oxford, the club were in serious financial trouble, were haunted by an impending points deduction after playing the unregistered Eddie Hutchinson, crowds were plummeting and there was a general feeling of negativity about the place.

It was vital that everyone pulled in the same direction – and that they did, Wilder galvanising his side, despite the loss of five points, to just miss out on the play-offs.

The following season, however, Wilder did get United up after their play-off final victory over York City at Wembley.

The feel-good factor was back, and that, Smith says, was thanks to the efforts of Wilder and Thomas.

“It’s the most important relationship at any football club – the manager and chairman,” Smith said.

“I was very involved back then, I’m obviously looking from a distance now, but you could see how well they worked together and success that came from that.”

He added: “First and foremost, we brought Chris in to get Oxford out of the Conference and into to Football League.

“That was why we employed him and he delivered.

“The next step was to establish Oxford back in the league, and I feel that next step is even harder to achieve to be perfectly honest.”

Smith, who led Oxford into the top-flight back in the 80s, now spends most of his time in Spain.

But he comes to United games when back in the country and still keeps closely involved with developments at the Kassam Stadium.

“I thought Chris and the team were very unlucky last year not to at least make the play-offs,” Smith said.

“They were hit by injuries then, and it is just unbelievable this season to have the players that they have had missing for so long – key players as well.

“Of course, you are restrained on how many players you can bring in and when you can do it, so it has been really difficult circumstances for Chris.

“You can’t replace some of those players and as any manager will tell you, if key players are injured, you are not going to be at your strongest on the pitch.

“But I am sure that Chris, like all managers, is already planning for what he can do in January and Oxford can really push on again, I have no doubt about that.”

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