When Gareth Ainsworth took over as player manager back in late September 2012, the fans were just overjoyed with Waddock being sacked, that anyone could’ve been placed in charge and we would’ve been buzzing. The extra buzz came from it being Ainsworth, someone we loved on the pitch in the last few years of his career, through his passion and commitment. The ‘Gareth Ainsworth way’, known throughout the football league as being this hard-working, tenacious, passionate style of play that gets results. It was a tricky start for Ainsworth though. His first game away at Dagenham & Redbridge saw us lose that game 3-0, and the initial excitement was replaced by, “what if it’s the players? What if he can’t help us?” as we sat bottom of the Football League. Bleak times.
The first season under Ainsworth’s control, for me, was summed up when we met Dagenham & Redbridge at Adams Park on the 19th January, four months after the 3-0 beating. The score line was only 1-0 to us, but the football we played that day was some of the best I’ve ever seen at Wycombe. The mentality Ainsworth had thrust upon the players was one of hard graft, and every single player brought into that (bar Dennis Oli). To turn around a four goal deficit, no matter who it’s against, is a very good achievement, especially within the same season. This led us onto a three game unbeaten streak, followed by a poor end to October and start to November, but after that we went from strength to strength. We really improved as a side , and our steady climb up the League Two table, actually gave us an outside chance of making the play-offs. The point is, when we wanted a new manager, we would’ve taken absolutely anyone because of the hatred that had built up for Gary Waddock, but, if the board of all Wycombe Wanderers supporters had picked anyone else, we could be playing our football now, not in the football league, but in the non-leagues, against the likes of Luton Town and Welling United, and not looking forward to League Cup games against Leicester, and Tuesday night away trips to Fratton Park.
The way Ainsworth has gone about reconstructing our side, is not through making any huge marquee signings, because we don’t have the money to do so! It is through the style Ainsworth played with throughout his career, with hard work, passion, belief and determination. His first move was recalling Josh Scowen from Blue Square Bet South side Eastbourne Borough. No one knew why, but looking at it now with hind-sight, it was like making a £200,000 signing. Scowen was arguably the player of the season last year, and fitted Ainsworth’s style right down to the last word. His tenacious running and battling saw him pick up a booking almost every game, alongside his midfield partner Stuart Lewis, who’s now club captain for this season.
We had the hard-working type of football, with outlets in Grant and Andrade who could change the game if they got the ball. When the summer came around, it was going to be a struggle to keep Joel, as his performances had helped us get out of trouble. He left for newly-promoted Championship side Yeovil Town, whereas Andrade returned to QPR as his loan expired. It was devastating, as you saw in my previous article, but they’ve been replaced by very similar players, and from first viewing, they’ve really impressed me.
Saturday was the first viewing, first game of the 2013-14 season at home to Morecambe. We played the same style of play as last season, and grinded out a victory. A very good performance, which could’ve resulted in 1 3 or 4-0 victory. We overpowered them. They hit the bar from a corner, and that was it. The style played didn’t give them any space to play. To be fair, they are one of worse sides in the league, but even if it was a top side, they’d have grown increasingly frustrated with constantly having someone at their feet, behind them, pestering them for the full 90 minutes.
All of this though, is leading up to one big game this week, Leicester. The Capital one Cup first round saw us drawn against Championship side Leicester City at home. They have some talented players, yes, but with (I hate to keep going on about it) our style of play, we can really contain their expressive football and put THEM on the back foot, not us. It’s very hard to find gaps along the floor through any of the lines in our side, from the attack, to the defence. It’s obviously not impossible to break through, but for a League Two side, it’s almost watertight.
There’s only one person to thank for this. Gareth Ainsworth. Legend. When the trust put him in charge of the side, it has been so noticeable it’s unreal. We have the same squad of players, but what Ainsworth gets out of them is amazing, and can actually put us in contention up the top of the league this season. The major thing Ainsworth has, which every manager needs, is backing from the players AND the fans. It begins in the stands. When we started losing games under Waddock, the fans got on his back, with clearly, gets to the players, and they start to lose belief in themselves, and then the manager, which can be fatal, especially for a struggling side. Ainsworth uses the term in almost all his interviews, ‘OneWycombe’ and that’s exactly what it is now. The management, fan ownership, players and fans are all just as important to the club as the next, it’s a great feeling. People working inside the club have said that, from March, they’ve never seen at atmosphere like it at Adams Park. In the terraces, in the changing room, in the ticket office, everywhere, because everyone is treated the same and they all play their part in keeping the cogs at the club running smoothly.
Long may it continue.
Written by George Stokes, We Are Going Up’s Wycombe Wanderers Blogger
George tweets at @georgestokes13