By Tony Leighton
A long apprenticeship has paid immediate dividends for Scunthorpe United's Russ Wilcox, who since stepping into his first management job in his own right has been nothing less than inspirational at the Sky Bet League 2 club.
When Wilcox took over from the dismissed Brian Laws, under whom he had served as assistant at three different clubs, the Iron were sitting 12th in the table.
Six wins in an unbeaten eight-match run later, the rejuvenated side are occupying top spot and Wilcox was rightly one of the nominees for The Football League's December Sky Bet League 2 Manager of the Month award.
"Being number two never niggled away at me," Wilcox told football-league.co.uk, "I was always happy in the position. But over the last couple of years I've felt that I was ready and when the chance came to step up I had to take it."
Wilcox's first experience of management came back in 1999, when he became player-assistant to Laws during the latter stages of a 17-year playing career that began at Northampton Town and ended at Scunthorpe.
The former defender served under Laws in three different spells at Glanford Park and also at Sheffield Wednesday and Burnley, so it was not easy to take over the reins in the wake of his long-time associate being sacked.
"The circumstances were difficult," admitted 49-year-old Wilcox, "especially when you've worked with someone for so long. But you have to deal with it in football, and I've just picked up the baton and run with it."
It's been more of a dash than a run with the proverbial baton, but the manager brushes aside the plaudits that are inevitably heading his way. "It's never about one person," he said, "it's about a collective effort and the whole group.
"The players have been tremendous and it's been a great run to get us to the top, but I've been in the game long enough to know that if you don't keep doing the things that got you there, keep all those ingredients, then you can fall away."
Wilcox has no intention of letting his team fall away as he looks to lead a promotion charge that can take the Iron back to League 1 after being relegated to the bottom tier for the first time in nine seasons at the end of last term.
With that aim in mind he may use the January transfer window to bolster his playing squad but said: "I'm in no rush to add, although when a club is doing well it's seen as a good time to add because players want to come and join you.
"But there's nothing in the pipeline, and in any case I feel that I've got a good enough squad to compete at the top end of League 2. We're certainly playing with confidence at the moment and showing how good we can be.
"But with 22 games left I don't want confidence sliding into arrogance, because every game will be difficult. I'm sure the players will stay focused though, and if we do that we can be there or thereabouts come the end of the season."
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