A red card, a heavily-deflected goal from the ensuing free-kick, and our season’s downward trajectory looked to be continuing apace. Thanks to a second-half penalty to earn a point at a side that had lost just once at home all season though, there is a feeling now that we might be able to right the ship.
Saturday’s game was proof positive that you can’t write anything off in football until it’s over. Going down to 10 men and then falling behind to one of the division’s form teams should have been it for us, but we kept ourselves in the game and eventually eked something out of it. Similarly for this season, if we can keep ourselves in touching distance of the play-offs, then we still have something to play for.
We’re six points off the play-offs with two games in hand, which is a perfectly salvageable situation. While those two games in hand are against two of the division’s current top three – Wycombe and Luton – winning games against promotion-calibre sides is what you have to do to ultimately be successful in the play-offs.
After much chopping and changing in recent weeks, it surely behoves Mark Robins to keep the XI against Mansfield together considering the generally strong level of performance. The major caveat to that is the suspension to Jordan Willis, which once again disrupts the back four heading into a game where we’re likely to be bombarded with long balls, set-pieces and efforts on goal.
Dominic Hyam is just about the only candidate who can step in at centre-back at the moment. It’s a big test for the young defender who has looked hesitant at times in aerial challenges and was guilty in the Brighton game of failing to track the player he was marking. That’s not to say he hasn’t shown character when called upon this season, but Wycombe are a side that will put his aerial and man-marking abilities under the spotlight.
Last Time We Met
It was one of the games of the season when we were last up against Wycombe, in the last home game before Christmas. The Sky Blues were excellent in the first-half, as a ‘definitely intentional’ 35-yard effort from Michael Doyle gave us the lead, before Marc McNulty raced onto a Peter Vincenti through ball and produced a finish of genuine quality (genuine, quality) after skinning his man.
Wycombe somehow pulled a goal back just before half-time after their defender Dan Scarr thumped a volley that landed to him after a set-piece. The Chairboys then looked to have made us rue our slight profligacy in the first-half when they won a penalty, which was expertly slotted home by Joe Jacobson. However, Marc McNulty, perhaps sensing the referee was having ‘one of those games’, took a tumble in the Wycombe penalty area a few minutes later and scored from the resulting penalty.
We held onto that lead, displaying both the level of quality and of character that had seemed missing for much of this season.
How Are They Doing?
As we saw back in December, Wycombe are a side that seeks to win games not from the balance of play but from the balance of moments. Their football can often be pretty one-dimensional as they look to exploit the preternaturally built Adebayo Akinfenwa’s physicality, however, they have developed a streak this season of scoring goals late on in games which has elevated them into promotion contention.
After a while, that ability to score goals late on in games can become a self-fulfilling prophecy. It gives players the motivation to run that bit harder to chase a lost cause, it can also sow in the opposing team’s mind that they could be about to concede. Heading into this game, the question is whether you’d back us to see out the win were we a goal up with five minutes to go?
Concentrating on the Wycombe players who might be scoring those late goals past us, Akinfenwa is clearly Wycombe’s key man, with 16 goals and 12 assists to his name. While he lacks mobility and height, his physical strength makes him a nightmare for defenders to hold off to win headers against him. If we can’t stop him dominating our centre-backs, the key is to ensure we win the second-balls.
That’s because Wycombe have an array of attacking options who revel on Akinfenwa’s approach play. The tireless veteran Craig Mackail-Smith is onto double figures this season, while the pacey winger Paris Cowan-Hall is enjoying one of his best seasons in front of goal with eight goals to his name. Nathan Tyson and last season’s break-out star Scott Kashket add to Wycombe’s array of forwards.
In addition, Wycombe have Luke O’Nien in midfield who is on eight goals, again from feeding off Akinfenwa’s presence in the side. Left-back Joe Jacobson is on five goals, thanks to his free-kick and penalty-taking prowess. While Wycombe are also a side that score a lot of their goals from set-pieces.
If we can withstand the bombarding, there will be goals at the other end of the pitch – out of the top-half of the division, only Swindon have conceded more than Wycombe’s 50 goals. It tends to be the case that Wycombe’s direct approach can leave space both in front of and behind their defence as players look to pile forward to read Akinfenwa’s flick-ons. Additionally, goalkeeper Scott Brown hasn’t been the most convincing presence between the sticks for Wycombe this season.
This is our toughest away game between now and the end of the season, and it comes at a time when we really need to pull a win out of the bag in order to kick-start our play-off push. Jordan Willis’ suspension makes things that bit more difficult for us, as he was someone who dealt with Adebayo Akinfenwa’s threat really well back in December, while we’re bringing in someone in Dominic Hyam to the side who can really struggle with the aerial side of defending.
In short, this game is a tough prospect and I don’t see us getting anything out of it. I think we’ll lose this game 2-0.