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Northampton Town: Chris Wilder. Cobblers. Champions.

21 April 2016

When Chris Wilder stepped on to the stage at The Football League Awards 2016 after being named the manager of the Team of the Season, he did it as a champion.

He also did it alongside one of his players, goalkeeper Adam Smith, who was also named in the season's best XI, sponsored by Football Manager.

The day before, down in sunny Devon, 48-year-old Wilder had watched his side draw 0-0 with Exeter City which was a result that sealed the Sky Bet League 2 title – the club's first league triumph since 1987.

It's for that reason that the goalless stalemate will go down as a pivotal result, and there has been plenty of them this term.

An opening-day win at Bristol Rovers, a mid-September 1-0 victory over Wilder's former employers Oxford, which was picked up despite playing the entire second half with 10 men, come to mind.

Then there's the more obvious ones – the emotional FA Cup First Round victory at Coventry City, the thrilling 4-3 triumph at Luton Town, the 2-1 midweek win at fellow promotion-chasers Plymouth Argyle, the 4-0 mauling of Leyton Orient, the last-gasp 3-2 come-from-behind success at Stevenage. The list goes on...

But none of those are the biggest results of the season, in the manager's opinion. That was one which took place off the field.

“We have to look back to the period when we were close to going pop,” he told The Football League, after collecting his gong at the Awards ceremony.

“When we people talk about the biggest moment of the season; I think the biggest moment was when the club was taken over and survived. That had to happen and the future of the club is the biggest result of this season.

“We'll have good seasons, we'll have not so good seasons; indifferent seasons, but the club will always be here and that's the main thing.”

Back in November, outstanding repayments on a £10.25m loan were being called in by the Borough Council as they petitioned for the club to be put into administration.

But it was the tax bill of £166,000 and consequent winding-up hearing that was the immediate worry, given the club's bank accounts were frozen. A club formed in 1897 was on the brink of oblivion.

Players and staff weren't being paid, and Wilder pleaded for something to happen behind the scenes in his post-match interview after a 2-1 success at Notts County on 21st November, with a rumoured takeover being delayed.

Enter Kelvin Thomas, the former Oxford United chairman.

Thomas agreed a takeover from David Cardoza, and the Cobblers have lost one game since, culminating in their rise to Sky Bet League 1.

Their remarkable run has included winning 10 on the spin, equalling a fourth tier record of eight successive away victories, possessing the longest unbeaten run in The Football League – 21 matches at the time of writing – and notching Wilder's 300th victory as a manager.

Not to mention the accolades at The Football League Awards in Manchester.

“It's an amazing achievement by everybody,” Wilder, a Yorkshireman, added.

“It's been a simply outstanding effort from everybody considering what we've had to go through, culminating in the last few weekends – being the first club in the country to get promotion then being the first club in the country to be crowned champions.

“The biggest thing has been the group effort and the commitment that everybody has shown – when we've been doing well and when we've not. We've all stuck together through every part of the season.

“We've got some good people in the changing room, and we've got some serious talent. Adam [Smith] has had an outstanding season but he and I will be the first to admit that these [the awards] are for the group.

“From my perspective, I've got fantastic staff who work with me to prepare the team to get the best results we can, and I'm sure Adam would say the same about the other boys. It's a really tight group – a special group of players that have achieved some remarkable results this season.”

But Wilder and his players aren't stopping there. They want more.

They're eight points short of 100 with three games remaining, and winning those would see them break a club record points haul and also the Cobblers' longest undefeated run.

Whether they achieve that or not won't tarnish the fact that 2015/16 has been a dream season for Northampton Town.

So, what's next?

“We'll regroup and go again,” Wilder said simply.

“We've got some talented players. We'll try and invest in the group and raise the bar but we've got the likes of Adam, Ricky Holmes, John-Joe O'Toole – we've got a really good group that will fancy their chances of going well next year.

“But, the hard work is to come. We'll have a summer off and then we're back at work because the game doesn't stand still. We have to go again and build on what we've got at the club.”

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