Second derby of the season against cross-county rivals Oxford United has come and gone, with this time yet another home loss to add to our ever-increasing troubles with serious thoughts as to whether we can avoid the drop into non-league football. Wycombe.
I’m very confused. Dazed. One of our best performances of the season, yet it’s another home league loss this season, and leaves us dangling in 20th, just two points off the drop into the pit that is non-league football.
Subject to what is swiftly becoming known as ‘standard league two refereeing’, Steven Craig was sent off after just twenty minutes for a dubious elbow decision that landed nowhere near John Mullins’ face. Straight red for the Scot recently back from a calf injury, ended by a shot of calf’s blood to the calf area. Madness. Prior to this Oxford has somewhat dominated proceedings, but sensing the disappointment in front of the home fans, Wycombe regrouped, and went at the game all guns blazing, the Gareth Ainsworth way. Aggression, passion and determination to pick up what would have been a massive three points considering the league position of the two sides, and the 1,500 Oxford fans who turned out in force, but silent, who claimed this “wasn’t a derby”.
At half-time, the stats were in our favour. Having had more of the ball with one less man, and one more shot on target, showed we were by no means out of this game, and confidence was amongst the supporters for one of the first times in months. The second half began with Oxford once again taking the front foot, and with Ryan Williams causing a constant threat all afternoon, Wycombe’s back five had to be alert at all times. A number of chances fell both ways, but none more noticeable than when the ball bounced down to Gary Doherty six yards out, only for him to fire straight at the onrushing Clarke in the Oxford goal. The one person you don’t want in that position.
With Craig off the field, the front five in Lewis, Scowen, Arnold, Bloomfield and McClure, put in a shift and a half. Tired legs crept in after the hour mark, after what can only be described as a determined performance by the quarters. From here, Oxford began to dominate proceedings again, picking up a number of bookings to block off any potential counter attack Gareth Ainsworth’s men threw at them. Again, good wing play from Williams kept Sam Wood, our left-back, pinned back inside our own half. Arguably, after both picked up a booking for an altercation late in the second half, Williams could’ve, and probably should’ve, seen red, after a number of dives that were only frowned upon by the match referee, Brendan Malone, who had a poor game.
But, the sucker punch looked like it was coming. A few chances from Williams, Rigg and Constable left Oxford wondering what they had to do to get past Matt Ingram. But, on the 87th minute, it arrived. Some good build up play from the visitors, Nicky Wroe found himself in too much space on the edge of the box. A sweet strike, it must be said, went sailing to Ingram’s right, and left Wycombe fans mulling over a seventh home league loss, out of 13 home games, and without a home win since October 12. Poor.
As much as we played well and Saturday and were unlucky to lose, it was yet another late goal that put us to the sword. It was the eighth goal we’ve conceded in the final team minutes of games already this season, the most in the league. But why? Is it fatigue? Is it tactics? Poor substitutions? For me, I think all of these contributed at different times. Fatigue was the reasoning for Saturday’s late goal, but why didn’t Ainsworth make the substitutions when you realise that Lewis and Scowen are unable to run their feet into the ground anymore? There appears to be a real lack of tactical knowledge in the Wycombe backroom staff, with Ainsworth in his first managerial role, Richard Dobson being there because his old role wasn’t needed, and Lee Harrison leaving two weeks ago, Ainsworth is left to making all footballing decisions on his own, and instead of potentially taking notes and getting this across to his team, he prefers the “run up and down the line like I’m still playing approach”, one which I’ve personally never seen in professional football.
Don’t get me wrong, I love Gareth Ainsworth, and after his marvellous football league career, he has the potential to be a good coach and a good manager, but whilst he’s in his first few seasons in charge, an experienced, knowledgeable head is something that me, and many other fans would like to see, just to settle the ship, and avoid the drop.
So where do we go from here? The next few weeks and some of the most important games since I started attending Wycombe matches at the age of 6. In the next four games, we face 17th placed Mansfield, 21st placed Portsmouth, 19th placed Bury, and we end this run with 18th placed Accrington Stanley. Absolutely massive. There is definitely the potential to get 12 points from these games, but the passion from Saturday needs to be shown in these four games, and the rest of the season.
In terms of squad, we currently have a mid-table to play-off places, type of squad. Where we are in the league, isn’t where a squad of our calibre should be. But, as we all know, in league two, theres always a player who can improve every position on the pitch. We brought in Jordan Mustoe on loan from Wigan on Friday, to fill up the left-back spot which may allow Sam Wood to push forward into left midfield with the absence of Paris Cowan-Hall, who was rejected by JLS before signing in the summer. But the market can be exploited even further. On the rare occasion we create chances, nine times out of ten, there’s been no one there to put the ball in the back of the net. In McClure, Craig, Kuffour, Morais, Pittman and Morgan, we have plenty of options, but none have really marked this season with any type of consistency in scoring goals. Just two years back, the loan signings of Paul Hayes and Marcello Trotta were very close to keeping us in League One. We’ve already missed out on Paul Hayes, who re-joined Scunthorpe after becoming a free agent for a short period of time, but a potential loan for a Premier League or Championship striker is still an option open to Wycombe. For me, it’s a must.
Lets just hope we can start to turn things around!
Written by George Stokes, We Are Going Up’s Wycombe Wanderers Blogger
George tweets at @georgestokes13