Russ Wilcox: Scunthorpe United's 'Mr Invincible'

By Kristian ReedBBC Sport
Hard work behind unbeaten run - Wilcox

Chelsea have 'the Special One', Manchester United fans are standing by 'the Chosen One', but, in Russ Wilcox, Scunthorpe United have found 'the Undefeated One'.

The Iron manager earned a place in the history books on Saturday after breaking a 125-year-old Football League record.

Saturday's 0-0 draw with Wycombe Wanderers extended Scunthorpe's unbeaten streak in League Two to 24 matches, having not lost since Wilcox took charge at Glanford Park, initially on a caretaker basis following the sacking of Brian Laws in November.

Wilcox's record surpasses the 23-match run of Preston North End's William Sudell in 1888-89.

It is a record older than Scunthorpe themselves, with the club formed in 1899, a decade after Sudell led his 'Invincibles' side to a League and FA Cup double in the inaugural season of the Football League before eventually falling to a 5-3 defeat by Aston Villa in the second game of the following campaign.

"It's an incredible achievement and I'm so proud of everyone at the football club," Wilcox told BBC Sport. "It's nice to be in the record books and I never envisaged we'd go 24 games unbeaten from being appointed.

"You know there's going to be twists and turns and you're waiting for that defeat to find out about yourself as well as the group of players."

However, Wilcox has yet to taste defeat in more than half a season in charge at Glanford Park, despite it being his first full-time managerial role, having been an assistant for more than 15 years at Scunthorpe, Sheffield Wednesday, Burnley and Bournemouth.

His only other taste of management also came with Scunthorpe in 2004 when he stepped in as caretaker following the brief departure of Laws. In that four-game spell he drew two matches and lost the other two.

The record-breaking achievement comes in a season when five first-time managers have been sacked in the Football League, while statistics released by the League Managers' Association in 2012 highlighted that almost half of new bosses are never appointed to a second management position.

The LMA chief executive Richard Bevan admits fledgling managers face a "huge challenge" to survive, while Wilcox's efforts have been labelled as "remarkable" by the LMA chairman, Howard Wilkinson.

"It is a fantastic achievement for an unassuming and modest man who has proved that dedication, hard work, persistence and a passion for the game can eventually achieve the extraordinary," the former Leeds boss said.

"The determination and resilience he has shown in rising through the ranks, sometimes painfully slowly, from part-time player, to league player, coach and now league manager is remarkable and worthy of tremendous credit and respect. This is an inspirational story for any would be coach or manager."

One of those taking inspiration is the former Preston team-mate Gareth Ainsworth, himself a first-time manager having been appointed on a full-time basis at Wycombe in November 2012.

"There's so much to learn as a manager and it's an amazing achievement by Russ. I really believe managers need a good two or three years to prove if they are good enough but the record is fantastic," he said.

"He's galvanised the team, got them together and I'm sure he'll lead them to promotion."

Ainsworth may well be proved right. Scunthorpe are within touching distance of a return to League One at the first time of asking, having been relegated last season.

They currently lie second in League Two, two points behind leaders Rochdale, and seven clear of the play-off places, with six games remaining.

Following Saturday's draw with Wycombe, Wilcox insisted promotion was not yet guaranteed but did acknowledge his side are edging ever closer to their goal.

"Seven points clear of the play-offs with six games to play takes some catching," he conceded. "We've always aimed for 80 points and I do think that will be enough this season.

"I'm very confident we can keep it going because I'm working with good people who want to work hard and keep improving.

"I think being on such an unbeaten run can give us an extra boost and it's a massive positive to keep the momentum going of not losing."

Should Scunthorpe extend their undefeated streak, they could well be celebrating a truly historic promotion winning season come May.

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