It was a win last Saturday, but it was by a hair’s breadth margin against a fairly mediocre Cheltenham Town side. It will have done little to quell the sense of decline since the injuries to Jodi Jones and Liam Kelly, but it at least kept us in the top seven and gives us something to build upon.
The two main positives to take from last Saturday was the performance of Tom Bayliss in midfield on his league debut and the movement of Maxime Biamou and Marc McNulty in attack. Bayliss looks the next in succession of highly-comfortable ball-playing midfielders this club is producing by the spadeload at the moment. As for Biamou and McNulty, while their finishing left plenty to be desired, they consistently put themselves in positions to get lucky with the kind of finish that McNulty eventually produced for the winning goal – that has to be seen as encouraging.
However, the defensive performance against Cheltenham was nothing less than shambolic. There was little sense of defensive organisation or discipline in the display, with the goal that we eventually conceded summing it all up – leaving gaping holes , losing headers, making rash challenges. It didn’t help that there was a lack of protection from midfield – Cheltenham often found themselves with time and space on the ball – but it only served to emphasise how important Liam Kelly’s presence in the centre of the park has been this season in making the likes of Rod McDonald, Jordan Willis and Jack Grimmer look good.
With a Wycombe side likely to be far less charitable in their finishing in this upcoming game, Mark Robins has to ensure that the defence is both better organised and protected. The physical presence of Tom Davies is likely to be helpful against the bombardment Wycombe are likely to throw at us, although it leaves a tough decision over whether to drop Jordan Willis or Rod McDonald. In midfield, it seems a choice between sticking with a very raw talent in Tom Bayliss who could find himself out of his depth in this kind of game so early into his career, or opting for a Ben Stevenson or Callum Maycock who boast slightly more experience/physical strength than Bayliss (which, admittedly, isn’t saying a lot).
Last Time We Met
Our last game against Wycombe Wanderers was probably the most momentous win we’ve had at the Ricoh Arena – it was certainly one of the most unexpectedly joyful. While Wycombe were in the division below us, not only were we on a dismal run of form under Russell Slade, but we’d been in this kind of situation too many times before for much of the fanbase to truly believe that we could actually secure a place at Wembley.
In the event, we came racing out of the blocks via goals from George Thomas and Stuart Beavon in a comfortable first-half performance. The two-goal cushion was just what we needed to weather the onslaught that Adebayo Akinfenwa’s introduction for Wycombe in the second-half subject us to. The hulking striker bulldozed his way through a youthful Coventry City backline to introduce a familiar sinking feeling throughout much of the crowd. Yet we somehow managed to hold-out, even Jack Finch came on to play an important cameo role, and send the Ricoh Arena into an unprecedented level of delirium – we were on our way to Wembley.
How Are They Doing?
I have to admit that I called it completely wrong with Wycombe heading into the season. The club looked to have run out of momentum and had become incredibly reliant on an ageing Adebayo Akinfenwa in attack, with manager Gareth Ainsworth showing little inclination to change his tactics. Instead, Akinfenwa has been as good as ever – only Notts County’s Jorge Grant has scored or assisted as many goals as him – while Ainsworth has diversified Wycombe’s threats somewhat.
While coping with Akinfenwa’s sheer physical strength – he’s capable of playing a highly effective target-man role despite being under six-foot – will be the primary challenge for our defence, we’ll also have to be wary of not becoming too focused on stopping just one player as Wycombe have several attacking players who are arguably worthy of playing at a higher level.
Former Peterborough talisman Craig Mackail-Smith has proved a useful signing this summer for Wycombe, playing just off the wing, Mackail-Smith has seven goals to his name this season. The ludicrously talented Eberechi Eze, on loan from QPR, can either play out wide or through the middle and has scored some absolute beauties this season. Paris Cowan-Hall is a pacey winger who has probably just lacked the consistency in his career to make it at a higher level, while Sam Saunders is a set-piece expert and another in the Wycombe ranks capable of scoring wonder goals from nowhere.
That’s not to mention that they’ve been without Scott Kashket – scorer of 15 goals last season – for much of the campaign.
Wycombe’s attacking threat is also supplemented in the form of left-back Joe Jacobson – another set-piece expert – who has an incredible four goals and four assists to his name this season. To put it another way, he’s only one goal/assist behind Jodi Jones.
Wycombe’s willingness to get the ball forward to their attacking players at any and every opportunity – they will launch free-kicks from inside their own half into the box – can leave them exposed somewhat at the back, although Adam El-Abd and Anthony Stewart are a highly competent defensive pairing that we’ll have to navigate. El-Abd can only be described as an utter bastard, the kind of player who’ll tackle the player rather than the ball, while Stewart is a tall and mobile centre-back who can be effective in both boxes.
I’m really worried about us heading into this game. Our defence looked so poor last week against a fairly mediocre Cheltenham side, and Wycombe are likely to pose an even bigger threat and are more likely to take the chances that fall their way. Even worse, we don’t have the attacking threat to go toe-to-toe with Wycombe should our defence let us down. We’re going to have to produce a much higher standard of performance than we’ve managed in recent weeks to take anything out of this game.
I can see this being a rather chastening defeat – 3-1 to Wycombe.