It’s been a hectic Christmas schedule which has seen the Chairboys extend their unbeaten run to seven league games. However, three consecutive draws caused some pundits and fans to claim that the bubble had burst at Adams Park, a viewpoint I disagreed with. A point at the Crown Ground, where Accrington Stanley had won six of the last eight games was not to be sneezed at in tough conditions. Whether at the top or the bottom of the league, it’s always vital to avoid defeat against the teams around you and Gareth Ainsworth has done just that over the hectic Christmas period. His small squad was stretched to breaking point but still picked up draws against Luton at home and then again just two days later at Shrewsbury.
It’s equally important to dispatch the teams at the bottom of the table too and Hartlepool United rolled into town with two additions to their rock bottom squad. Striker Rakish Bingham, who earlier in the season gave the Wycombe back four an awkward fifteen minutes turning out for his parent club Mansfield, went straight into the starting line up alongside midfielder Aaron Tshibola, who joined on loan from Reading. Centre back Scott Harrison also extended his loan stay from Sunderland and featured for the first time since late November. Lining up initially 4-5-1, the Monkey Hangers proved stubborn resistance to Wycombe, who huffed and puffed without causing goalkeeper Scott Flinders any headaches.
The breakthrough came on thirty eight minutes after Peter Murphy overturned possession on the edge of his own box and the ball was moved quickly forwards, a hallmark of the Wycombe team this season. Aaron Holloway, enjoying an impressive game, fed Josh Scowen who intelligently spread the ball wide to Fred Onyedinma and the eighteen year old burst into the box before hammering the ball past Flinders at his near post. Switching Onyedinma to the right of the front three shortly before his goal made the difference and the youngster turned in an excellent performance.
The Chairboys played some wonderful stuff after the break but failed to add to the scoring which was the only blot on the copybook. Both Sam Wood and Peter Murphy fluffed clear chances and, had the latter taken his, it would have capped off a tremendous move. Bingham nearly made Wycombe pay for their bluntness in front of goal when his header clipped the outside of the post five minutes from the end. There was still time for Darren ‘card machine’ Deadman to dismiss Lewis Hawkins for two yellows but Wycombe saw out a deserved win.
For the post match thoughts of Gareth Ainsworth, talking to me on BBC Three Counties click here
Here are the commentary highlights from myself, Paul Dixon and Scotty. Many thanks to Keith Cummings for the audio.
For mobile and tablet version click here
On Friday I was on the escalators in H&M Oxford Street when I realised I was completely surrounded by images of former Chairboy John Halls. “Bloody hell, it’s John Halls” i exclaimed. My girlfriend replied “I have no idea who that is but he’s fit”. I spent the next five minutes explaining in detail just how badly he had played for Wycombe Wanderers in a home defeat against Stevenage, before he admitted defeat against a troublesome achilles injury and hung up his boots a few years ago. (With chat like this, it’s a wonder I have a girlfriend at all). It’s great to see that John has carved out a successful career as a model after football though.
Anyway, this episode made me cast my mind back to when Wycombe Wanderers signed him and Ben Harding. These signings epitomised a hugely underwhelming transfer window following promotion to League One and saw the start of a painful decline that nearly led to The Chairboys sliding out of the Football League. Back then the money supply had been cut and there was no long term plan or indeed any strategy for the club. Gary Waddock struggled in his recruitment as a result. These days the green shoots of recovery are there for all to see. Along with the remaining faces of the golden final generation of the youth academy, Gareth Ainsworth has signed well and given Wycombe Wanderers a blue print for recovery.
Paris Cowan-Hall was a precocious talent shown the door by fellow League Two club Plymouth Argyle before Ainsworth brought him into the fold at Adams Park for free. Paris has undergone a transformation under the guidance of the management team and this season you can see that the penny had dropped with him adding graft and grit to his game. The rewards have followed with the Wycombe fans seeing a goal rush before Cowan-Hall’s departure. More importantly, the club has made some money from the deal (believed to be £85k) and put themselves on the map as a place where young talent can be nurtured in the furnace of competitive league football. Aaron Pierre is the next one on the production line and I will be amazed if he is still here at the end of his three year contract. Add in Matt Ingram, Josh Scowen, Peter Murphy etc and a financial recovery plan of sorts is there for all to see. What is also encouraging is that the club appear to be in a stronger negotiating position when it comes to selling on players and hopefully harsh lessons have been learned from the past few seasons.
Crucially, the home attendances are starting to creep up too, with three and a half thousand Wycombe fans at Adams Park for the Hartlepool United game. Of course flogging off the best players is not going to help bring the crowds back, only wins and good football can do that which will require a decent squad. At the start of the season new chairman Andrew Howard said it was a two year plan. We are a quarter of the way through now and Ainsworth has got Wycombe punching well above their financial position. January will be an interesting month.