Tag Archives: Gareth Ainsworth

The fine margins of League Two

The up and down of form of Wycombe Wanderers is certainly a head scratcher this season. It was not that long ago at all when great records were falling. Best unbeaten run for over ten years, longest consecutive scoring run since the late eighties and somewhere along the line the Chairboys equalled their consecutive win tally too. Yet if the Blues succumb to a defeat against Accrington Stanley (if the weather permits the game to go ahead), it will equal the worst run of back to back defeats (six) in the Football League ever for Wycombe, a record set in April 2006.

What’s changed? This is the question that is raging around the stands and bars at Adams Park, social media and forums. Fatigue since the cup exploits against Tottenham Hotspur and Checkatrade Trophy run?  A gruelling sequence of six uninterrupted Tuesday night away games? Injuries to key players? Silly mistakes and missed chances? Key decisions going against Wycombe? It may well be a combination of all of these things. Perhaps a touch of bad luck too, with defeats against Colchester and Crawley coming from two world class strikes that certainly do not happen every week in League Two.

The wretched performance at Stevenage aside, all of the games lost have been tight affairs, with the fourth goal away at Exeter coming very late on with players committing themselves forwards to force an equaliser. Looking back a bit further to the winning run, these matches were all pretty tight too in the league with a couple of 2-0 wins being the most comfortable results in the sequence. This pretty much sums up League Two for me this season. Wycombe have certainly lost the winning habit of late and Gareth will have to rediscover it without the immediate help of Pierre, Stewart, Kashket and Hayes, all potential game changers who are currently injured. Here is what Gareth had to say to me on BBC3CR after the defeat at home to Crawley Town…

Off the field, it certainly has been a successful season for the Chairboys with the lucrative cup runs. However, the fans do not want to see a repeat to the end of last season which ended with a whimper and a mid table finish. The sticky patch that Wycombe currently find themselves in has seen them drop to eleventh in the table but still only four points off the play off positions. With thirty-nine points still to play for and twenty-four of those to be contested at Adams Park, all is still to play for… COYB!

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Wycombe Wanderers 0 Colchester United 2

A poor second half performance from Wycombe Wanderers saw them succumb to defeat against old rivals Colchester United. An evenly matched first period was certainly one for the defenders with both sets of centre backs dominating in a game of few chances. The best opportunity fell to Aaron Pierre, who headed wide following a peach of a cross from the impressive Danny Rowe. Shortly after this, Garry Thompson was correctly booked for simulation as he looked for a penalty and at half time the match was delicately poised.

The Chairboys continued with their game plan of getting crosses and the ball into the box as often as possible, but they were all met by the flawless centre back pairing of Luke Prosser and Tom Eastman. Just after the hour mark, Colchester displayed their clinical side with Chris Porter prodding the ball home from six yards after good work down the right and side from Sammy Szmodics. And it was Szmodics who sealed the win with a wonderful finish on 81 minutes as Wycombe committed players forward in search of an elusive goal. The first shot on target for the home side finally arrived in injury time, but Dayle Southwell’s shot on the turn drew a fantastic save from Sam Walker.

After the game, I spoke to Gareth Ainsworth for BBC Three Counties

The attack has been in need of confidence, pace and quality since February and Gareth looked to address this with the signings he made in the Summer. With the injuries coming thick and fast in the opening stages of the season, it’s the absence of pacey wide men Myles Weston and Paris Cowan-Hall that look to be hurting  Wycombe the most. However, whilst their on pitch reputations had fans salivating at the prospect of exciting attacking football, their respective injury records were always a potential cloud on the horizon.

Ten games into a new season is a fair amount of time to provide an accurate reflection on how a squad is settling down. Wycombe are halfway through this period and have a tough run of fixtures ahead with the fans still sore after a poor finish to the last campaign. As Chairboys manager, Gareth has survived an incredibly sticky situation and also delivered the club’s record points total in the Football League, both achieved in tricky financial conditions. So far, 2016 has been a very poor year in terms of goals scored and he will need to draw on these experiences to turn this around.

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Poker Face

A new season. Renewed hope, fresh faces, a new kit and as always, plenty to discuss.

The end of the last campaign really felt like a hard slog with the gruelling schedule taking it’s toll on a small and injury hit squad. Walking back into Adams Park last night though, there was a real buzz of anticipation about the place. Whispers of sell on clauses, identities of trialists, sightings of The Beast and actually being able to see and purchase club merchandise before the opening day of the season. Wycombe Wanderers are getting their mojo back.

The 1-1 draw against Brentford was as entertaining as a pre season friendly could be, played out in very hot conditions with a few mystery faces on the pitch. A welcome goal from Dayle Southwell and an impressive first half from Myles Weston were big positives for the Chairboys and there is still much more to come. At least one goalkeeper will need to be secured, trialists have earned more time to impress and following guidance from the FA, Adebayo Akinfenwa’s home debut will probably be against QPR on Friday.

The new rules concerning loans this season are undoubtedly going to add to the usual madness of pre season with all business having to be concluded by the end of August. After that, it’s make do with what you have until the window is reopened once again in January. With Wycombe running a small squad, this adds another dimension to the decisions that Gareth Ainsworth must make on players and also when he does so. I caught up with him after the game for a chat about these very things…

I also took the opportunity for a chat with new striker Dayle Southwell. On first impression, he looks to be an excellent addition to the squad, both on and off the field. As I have been away for most of the Summer I had some catching up to do and Dayle very kindly entertained my lazy Jamie Vardy comparison…

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Pre season. A huge game of poker. 

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Pirates On The Horizon

The Chairboy’s old friends Bristol Rovers are in town, complete with their new Jordanian owners. Both clubs have come a very long way since the climax of the 2013/14 season, and today meet in much healthier positions in the table. With only one point between the two sides and with Rovers on a three match winning streak against the Wanderers, it should be a tasty affair.

I spoke with Wycombe manager Gareth Ainsworth in the build up to the game

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I also had a chat with midfielder Sam Wood

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Full match commentary will be on Chairboys Player from 2.55pm, whilst build up, team news, reports and a post match interview with Gareth Ainsworth will be on BBC Three Counties across all their frequencies.

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A home from home

Well. Who would have thought a long trip to Plymouth would have resulted in a former Pilgrim scoring from a set piece to claim all three points against high flying Argyle? Even under a different manager, the same defensive frailties were still evident against the Chairboys, as the home side failed to deal with a poorly delivered early corner. And after an almighty scramble in the box, it was Gozie Ugwu who triumphantly rose from the mud to celebrate a much needed strike which he will hope can kick start a run of goals.

Before the game, I enjoyed a chat with a friend who is a season ticket holder at Home Park. As you could only expect from a football fan of a team riding high in the league, his glass was very much half empty. His main concerns were that Wycombe would press the Plymouth midfield high up the pitch and disrupt the flow of the game as in his opinion, that would be how to stop them from playing their game. How right he was!

Armed with an early lead to defend, the Chairboys slowed the pace of the game down at every opportunity and made it a real war of attrition, aided by the combination of a dreadful pitch and an immobile referee in Philip Gibbs. Even with the early loss of young goalkeeper Alex Lynch to injury, resulting in forty six year old coach Barry Richardson going in goal, Wycombe looked comfortable. The only scare for the visitors came near the end of the first half, after Reuben Reid escaped through on goal and appeared to be fouled by Jason McCarthy. Nothing was given however by a referee who struggled to keep a lid on this feisty affair. Shortly afterwards, the board went up to signal the amount of time to be added on to compensate for the Wycombe players receiving treatment. Five minutes!  The Argyle manager, Derek Adams, was furious at this and berated the fourth official to such an extent, Gibbs had to come over to placate the Scotsman. After a short conversation, the board was held aloft once more and proudly displayed nine minutes (a reverse Dolly Parton), although at least one of those extra minutes was used up by Gibbs to transport himself from the centre circle to the touchline and back.

The second half saw Argyle throw everything at Wycombe. I expected the introduction of the excellent Graham Carey at the start of the second half to change the game, but despite some early pressure, the visitors stood firm. Centre backs, McCarthy and Aaron Pierre were superb and in front of them, the returning defensive midfielder Marcus Bean was immense. As the Pilgrims committed more players forward, it was Wycombe who looked the more likely to score as the game came to an end, lighting the blue touch paper in the technical areas on the final whistle…

 

Click here to listen to Wycombe Wanderers manager, Gareth Ainsworth, talking to me on BBC Three Counties after the game.

And to read the post match thoughts of Plymouth Argyle manager, Derek Adams, click here.

The story of the day though was undoubtedly the Wycombe Wanderers debut of Barry Richardson. At the age of forty six, Richardson became the oldest player to represent the Chairboys in the Football League, beating Rob Lee by over six years. I caught up with Barry after the game…

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Powerful Pierre

Ahead of the Chairboys home game against Leyton Orient I spoke to their centre back Aaron Pierre. Fresh from an outstanding set of performances against Premier League Aston Villa in the FA Cup, I asked Aaron about his development so far at Wycombe Wanderers…

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Nobody can argue that Aaron has not grabbed the opportunity of first team football at Wycombe with both hands, and full credit must be afforded to Gareth Ainsworth for securing the youngster on a permanent contract eighteen months ago. His brief loan spell at the end of the 13/14 season (his first ever professional appearances in the FL) highlighted his potential and since then, Pierre has developed from a raw centre back into one of the finest defenders in Football League Two. With pace to burn and strength to match, he is the first name on the team sheet for me at Adams Park.

The big question now is just how long will the Adams Park faithful be able to enjoy watching Aaron Pierre in action? Few would begrudge the Grenadian international a move higher up the league ladder, his attitude/work rate have been superb and he has become one of the key figures in The Chairboys resurgence. He will leave a big hole at both ends of the pitch when the time comes for him to move on. Hopefully, Wycombe Wanderers will be able to command a healthy fee as they look to continue their journey out of the financial woods.

 

The track used in the audio is called P.O.W.E.R.F.U.L. P.I.E.R.R.E by the band Hooton Tennis Club and you can enjoy the full track on the YouTube video below.

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Living On The Volcano

Here is my article on ‘Living On The Volcano’ by Michael Calvin, from Saturday’s Wycombe Wanderers match day programme…
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“Living on a volcano: any day may be your last”. This is is how Arsene Wenger, currently the longest serving manager in the English game, perfectly describes the precarious nature of being a football manager. The phrase is used as the title of Michael Calvin’s latest book, which charts the progress of twenty managers, all in various stages and levels of their career.
I first met Mike Calvin on that day in Torquay. He was in a no lose situation, as whatever happened, it would provide some superb copy for his column in the Independent. As we all know, it was a magical fairy tale rather than a double funeral that was typed up amongst the scavenging sea gulls in the Plainmoor press box. The following day, in stark black and white, his words also shone a sobering light upon the challenging circumstances that Gareth Ainsworth had dealt with in keeping The Chairboys in The Football League. Shortly after, Mike began work on ‘Living On The Volcano’, and Gareth’s continuation of his fairy tale last season, provides an excellent frame for the book.
The average life span of a Football League manager is seventeen months, and last season there were fifty-seven managerial changes in the top four divisions. We all know their faces, watching and listening to their post match press conferences, but what do we really know about these characters that chose a life of high pressure and uncertainty? The chapter on Alan Pardew is my favourite, learning about his past working on building sites and finally getting his chance to become a professional footballer well into his twenties. This little known background information, coupled with Alan’s own admissions of his flaws and how he is confronting them has completely changed my perception of Pardew. I now find myself rooting for him as I watch Match Of The Day which is a complete turnaround for me.
Perspective on life and the human condition is provided by Martin Ling, who candidly talks through his experiences of the serious illness of depression, his subsequent recovery and rehabilitation back into football. Large parts of the text are purely the words of the managers, but through their trust in Mike, the propaganda of the press room is replaced by personal and insightful stories that provides a fascinating insight in to what makes these people tick and shape their personalities. The book skilfully interweaves these stories as it skips up and down the divisions and in these days of Premier League saturation, it’s wonderful to read and learn so much about the lower leagues.
Ainsworth recently clocked up three years in the job at Wycombe and a few days later, another belch from the volcano removed Steve Evans from the hot seat at Rotherham. This has made Gareth the tenth longest serving manager in the Football League which is a ludicrous statistic. During the time it’s taken me to write this column, Graham Alexander has paid the price for a poor start to the season at Fleetwood. On average it takes a managerial casualty eighteen months to get another job and a chance to rebuild their reputations. Fifty-eight percent of first time managers never get that chance which explains Ainsworth’s voracious work ethic in turning Wycombe’s fortunes around. In fact, Gareth has been working so hard, he told me he hasn’t had a chance to read the book yet!
As a football fan, it has thoroughly enhanced my understanding of the beautiful game.

Available in all good bookshops and on Amazon too.

You can also catch Michael Calvin on the BBC Three Counties Sports Show tonight, talking to Geoff Doyle and Luke Ashmead between 6-7pm. Tune in!

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