By Tony Leighton
The irony of being pitted against his previous club Oxford United, in a do or die last match of the season clash, is not lost on Northampton Town manager Chris Wilder as he prepares his team for one last push for Football League survival.
But the fiercely focused Wilder, who in late January chose to make the switch from the Kassam Stadium to Sixfields with the U's sitting comfortably in the Sky Bet League 2 Play-Off places and the Cobblers six points adrift of safety at the bottom, pays no heed to the fate card played by The Football League computer.
"You always look at the fixture lists," Wilder told football-league.co.uk, "and you can't get away from the game we've been given. But whoever we were playing in this final game, with the form that we're in, we'd be confident we could win."
Wilder's confidence is not misplaced. A 3-0 victory at Dagenham & Redbridge last week lifted the Cobblers out of the relegation zone for the first time since September and they need just a point on Saturday to ensure that next season they will once more be playing in League 2 and not in the Conference.
Oxford will certainly be playing in League 2, six defeats in their last seven matches having seen them drop out of contention for a place in the Play-Offs. The U's therefore have much less to play for than the Cobblers on Saturday.
But Wilder simply noted: "I'm not concerned whether or not they've got nothing to play for. Whatever happens in their camp I can't affect or control, we can only control what our players are doing or have done and we've been going well.
"The players have shown a great desire and the support we've had has given them a massive lift. I asked for unity and we've certainly got that. The players are connecting with the supporters, the supporters are seeing what the players are producing in pressure situations. That will stand us in good stead on Saturday."
Keeping Northampton in The League, from the situation he inherited, will be the biggest achievement of Wilder's management career to date. Having gone close to getting Halifax Town promoted from the Conference and then succeeding with Oxford, most of his time in management has been spent chasing promotion.
But he was happy to take on the challenge of what was a mighty task at Sixfields. "A lot of people were surprised," admitted Wilder, who in his playing days was a gritty competitor with the likes of his home town team Sheffield United.
"I took the job on, though," added the now 46-year-old manager, "because I believed in the ability of myself and the coaching staff, the players that we had and the backing of the chairman at a club that knew where it wanted to go.
"I always believed 100 per cent that we could get out of it [relegation trouble] and nothing is about to change that now. We have to make one final push and hopefully, on Saturday night, that belief will be justified and we can all have a good summer and then look forward to moving in into the new campaign."
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