Since taking the reins at Stockport Town Dave Wild has overseen a huge improvement in a side which, before his arrival, was failing to live up to last season’s fourth place finish.
Languishing in mid-table was not what was expected after last year’s play-off heartbreak but as 2016 drew to a close the Lions found themselves without a manager and struggling to find consistency in the North West Counties First Division.
Calum Sykes, their former manager, had guided Town to the cusp of promotion the previous year but just before Christmas he left to join New Mills in the division above, hoping he could be the man to save the Derbyshire club from consecutive relegations.
When he left he took a large number of players with him in order to bolster the Millers’ squad for their survival battle.
The departure of Sykes and that of many first team players saw Stockport forced to field an inexperienced side over the Christmas period.
On Boxing Day they lost 2-0 to Cheadle Town, a respectable performance given the circumstances, but on New Year’s Eve they were thumped 10-0 at home to high-flying City of Liverpool FC.
It was clear that whoever took up the vacant role would have a huge task ahead of him to rebuild the squad and restore confidence at the club.
Wild seems to have succeeded in doing both.
“It was great for me because I was in a win-win situation. If we lost the next game 8-0 I’ve improved. Luckily we drew. I took three lads with me to Oswestry and they added a bit of steel to the squad and we’ve built from there,” explained the 29 year-old.
Given the dearth of experience in the squad that Wild inherited his first task was to seek reinforcements, something which he found to be a stressful process.
“The hardest thing for me was the recruitment side of things. When I came it was slap, bang in the middle of the season and some of the lads I wanted were already at clubs.
“There was a big turnaround of players in the first month but now we’ve settled down.
"I brought in lads with a more professional mind-set towards where the club is aiming and towards where I’m aiming to take the club. Between 18 months and three years we’ll be where we want to be as a club with those players,” he said.
Warren Gaskin was one of the players who departed for New Mills and, having lost their captain, it was important that the Lions brought in somebody who could fill that void. According to Wild, Adam Stubbs has proved to be a more than capable replacement.
“He was playing Sunday league football, he’s never played semi-pro before. He’s been absolutely colossal. He’s aggressive in the air, always on the front foot and perfect for what we want to achieve.”
After a goalless draw at Oswestry in his opening game Wild’s steadying influence saw Town draw against Bacup - a game he says they should have won - and then earn another point away at Charnock Richard.
His first victory came the following week at home to Silsden and Wild’s record currently stands at an impressive 17 points from his opening ten games which included a nine-match unbeaten run that was ended in a 2-0 defeat against St Helens last Thursday.
These statistics highlight the improvement of a team who lost six of the ten games preceding Wild’s arrival.
They currently sit 9th and just three places off the play-offs but Wild accepts that earning a place in the post-season lottery could be a bridge too far for his side.
“If you look at the gap it’s pretty unlikely. With respect to the previous manager and group of players, they’d lost eleven games by the time I came in. I just think we’re a little bit late to close the gap. We’ve probably drawn a few too many games that we should have won,” Wild admitted.
The new manager is already looking ahead to next season though.
“The main thing for us as a club now is the sheer positivity around the place. There’s a real buzz and a real professional mind set for us to build on next season,” he said.
Wild’s coaching pedigree is impressive given that he is not yet 30. As assistant at Maine Road last year he helped guide the Manchester club from bottom of the league to a respectable 11th place finish.
At the start of the current campaign he had a taste of Evo-Stik football as assistant manager of Northwich Victoria and he already has his eyes set on a return to that level with Stockport.
“It’s something I definitely want to do again in the future and I want to take Stockport Town there because we’ve got the infrastructure and the right people behind the scenes driving it forward. I think it is achievable,” he explained.
Despite losing his unbeaten record there is no doubt that Wild has been the perfect tonic for Stockport Town since taking on an unenviable task back in January and he seems unfazed by his first taste of management.
“If you’re not getting jitters on a match day then this game’s not for you in my opinion; I get anxious and agitated on Friday night and Saturday morning but nothing worries me or bothers me. Genuinely, I’m enjoying it,” he said.