Somehow, despite losing his star striker for four games, being knocked out of two cups, missing out on the manager of the month award and now losing perhaps the best goalkeeper in the division for the nearly 3 months, Chris Wilder has steered us to within 2 points of the play-offs following our dominant 2-1 victory over Bradford. Adversity, it seems, is Chris Wilder's greatest friend.
“The crowd were never more united than they were chanting for the removal of the Staffordshire Guardiola” commented head statistician Wilfred Leibermeister “Wilder’s achievements have been altogether more fragmented but it is no less impressive”.
Earlier this season, the pursuit of Chris Wilder seemed to take him to a point of no return. Defeat followed complacent draw followed defeat. Any return to form, received wisdom had it, would be temporary, a mere diversion from an irreversible downward trend.
But what about the financial constraints?
What about the injuries?
What about the pitch?
Idiots like Dougieonradiooxford, who take the time to phone in after every game to tell us 'at the end of the day', 'the thing is', 'to be honest' and 'its a results business' before claiming that in any other walk of life a reduction in performance results in instant dismissal.
But, while sabres were being rattled, Wilder just kept on managing; well, not so much managing, but wrestling; fighting a flailing crocodile Johnny Weismuller style. Duberry's injury, Whing's injury, Craddock's injury, Constable's ban, the pitch. And they're just the major issues; there's JPP, Liam Davis and Dean Smalley's injuries, Lee Cox, Johnny Mullins and Jake Forster-Caskey going back to their parent clubs.
And now, just as we hit form and just as it looks like we've survived the Constable ban, and just as some of the key players are coming back to fitness, Ryan Clarke is out for 10 weeks.
But where in other walks of life, people take knocks in their job and go and look for something else to do or worse; they give up and blame other people, Wilder kept battling on. Doing loan deals, creating a squad that is prepared to play for each other, changing the way we play, nursing players through games. It's a quality that managers frequently miss; the requirement to actually do something when things go wrong, to manage, to drag their charges out of the mire.
Wilder thrives when he has to work; back in his Halifax days, faced with extinction, he took them to the verge of the football league. At Oxford he turned around a supertanker which was adrift and broken; bringing in players, chucking others out, throwing teams together. At the point when it looked like we were cruising, things went pear-shaped. When things went pear-shaped he wrestled them back into shape. When big games come along, where the circumstances need managing, more often than not he has performed.
Last season, with the play-offs there for the taking, we collapsed, a product of injuries and of a Swindon hang-over, but more than anything because we all thought we'd pretty much made it. His personality doesn't suit a cool detached calm, he wants to be able to do something.
This season has not gone to plan; but Wilder continues to wrack up little records that show he remains a force to be reckoned with. First time we've been in the 3rd Round of the FA Cup for 10 years, furthest we've ever been in the JPT, and now, following Saturday's 2-1 win over Bradford, the first 4 game winning streak in the league for 16 years.
Nobody should kid themselves that we're now on a play-off or promotion charge; although your average hyperbolic Kassam regular will struggle to keep things in context. The Clarke bombshell is evidence that we can't assume anything, because as soon as we do, something comes along to destabilise us. It really is a case of taking each game as it comes. And that could be the best thing for us at the moment.