The Chairboys are going for League One! With survival assured, there is a new target and I for one am delighted.
Interviewing Wycombe Wanderers’ manager Gareth Ainsworth each week for the past two seasons has been a fantastic experience for me so far. He has always been a lucid and free talker, so much so I gave up preparing questions before our radio encounters as he would invariably answer them all in his first answer. It’s made me have to think on my feet and go with the conversation, something I hope will stand me in good stead in the future. However, this season has seen a very different Gareth, with his verbose answers somehow always ending up on his own, and more importantly the clubs agenda.
“55 points and survival Phil”
“We’ve got a small squad and budget Phil”
“We are the underdogs coming into this game Phil”
I’m pretty sure if I’d asked Gareth his thoughts on the upcoming new album from the Kings Of Leon, he would have eulogised about their career and how great they are live before ending on how important they’ve been in Wycombe Wanderers fight for survival this season.
At the start of the campaign it was an understandable approach. The near fatal battle scars from last season had barely healed and were still visible. Ainsworth was never going to go there again. The changes made have all been well documented, least of all on these very pages, and have been spectacularly successful. After the pre Christmas dismantling of promotion hopefuls Southend United, which saw the Chairboys strengthen their position at the top of the table, the post match survival mantra was beginning to sound a little farcical. If Gareth ever gets fed up of football, surely a career in politics beckons…
Shortly after the New Year, I spoke with Alfie Mawson. Having just extended his deal until the end of the season I enquired if he was at Adams Park to win promotion with the then (still) top of the table Chairboys. I swear he entered into a trance before trotting out the line about reaching the points target and surviving in League Two.
My mind began to race. Was David Wates actually the next Derren Brown rather than the Head of Conditioning? Either way, it has been an impressive effort from the entire club as they’ve attempted to turn the fortunes of Wycombe Wanderers around.
With the away win at Cambridge United taking Wycombe beyond their target to fifty-six points, the two subsequent home defeats resulted in their first back to back losses of the campaign. Every club has a sticky patch at some point during the season and few can be surprised that it has arrived at the end of a harsh transfer window for the Chairboys. I have previously written about the importance of Josh Scowen to the formation that Gareth had employed with great effect at Wycombe. He was the insurance policy in midfield whose reading of the game allowed Jombati and Jacobson to push forwards. Quite simply, Wycombe Wanderers are really missing him.
The loss of Paris Cowan-Hall has been softened greatly by the emergence of Fred Onyedinma, but it’s been the injury of talismanic skipper Paul Hayes that led to the the goals drying up. Despite the recent shyness in front of goal, the unbeaten run was still extended to an impressive twelve games, largely due to the immense displays from Matt Ingram and his defence. The two defeats have been a stark reminder that these are young players who have played a lot of football this season already. All four goals conceded were preventable but the defensive errors could not be offset by the strikers.
Plymouth was a poor performance all round, written off as a bad day at the office. The first half against Newport County was flat too, before a much improved second half which really should have seen Wycombe take something from the game. The cameo from Hayes in the final thirty minutes was most welcome as he provides the guile that the Chairboys require to unlock the stubborn League Two defences.
With Pierre and Jacobson approaching suspension through yellow cards, the loan market will be required at some point. Whilst at the other end of the pitch Gareth has to somehow help Matt McClure rediscover his mojo in front of goal whilst getting a fit again Hogan Ephraim to sparkle too.
With Shrewsbury, Burton and Luton all looking ominous, promotion will be a big challenge. Now is the time for the whole club to pull together and achieve what looked liked a fairy tale last August. Remember, Gareth has previous with these too…