The Sky Blues stretched their brilliant record against Wycombe Wanderers to another game, with an important victory at Adams Park that lifts the team eight points clear of danger and closer to 12th-place than 22nd.
In a tired first-half performance, it was defensive midfield lynchpin, Liam Kelly, that was the team’s biggest attacking threat. He gave the team the lead with a pot-shot from just outside the penalty area mid-way through the first-half that came from absolutely nothing. Kelly’s second came from a set-piece routine, as he headed in after Leo Ostigard rose highest from Gustavo Hamer’s delivery.
The second-half was a frantic affair, with Wycombe pushing bodies forward and the Sky Blues occassionally threatening on the counter. A harsh penalty decision saw the Chairboys pull a goal back to set up a nervy final half hour. The game remained tightly poised, before Scott Kashket thought he had levelled the scores, only for his late equaliser to be ruled out for a tight offside decision.
2020/21: Endurance Football
The 2020/21 season is likely to be remembered as something of a folly. With a reduced amount of time to complete the campaign, the footballing authorities have refused to compromise on playing a full season – needless cup competitions and all. As a result, this was our seventh game in 23 days, and it showed.
Mark Robins made two changes from the team that started the past two games, with Ben Sheaf and Jordan Shipley replacing Gustavo Hamer and Maxime Biamou. In a non-congested fixture list, I’m confident that Robins would never have taken a player as important as Hamer out of the starting line-up in such an important game. However, with two more important games to come next week, it made sense to try and keep key players fresh if it was at all possible.
The manager’s squad management was struck a blow in this game by having to take off Jordan Shipley and Liam Kelly, seemingly for injuries picked up in the first-half. This meant that he had to risk Gustavo Hamer possibly picking up a costly fifth booking of the season, and also led to two changes of shape across the 90 minutes.
The first-half performance in particular looked to be of a team that had played a lot of football in short space of team – akin to the depths of the festive period. There was a lack of impetus and a general sloppiness that seemed to infect the team, which may also have been driven by the partisan Wycombe Wanderers home crowd. Both Fankaty Dabo and Sam McCallum looked particularly short on intensity in the first-half, while Tyler Walker in attack was another clear victim of fatigue throughout 94 minutes that he was on the pitch for.
Somehow, the Sky Blues managed to get themselves two goals ahead before half-time – thanks to a brace from Liam Kelly, of all people – which ultimately proved to be enough to win the game.
While the result is all that really matters, it is becoming increasingly apparent that we are seeing a lesser standard of football as this crazy fixture list continues to rage. It is still possible to be entertained and take joy from low quality football, but it is a campaign that is likely to be defined by who manages their resources the best, gets good luck with injuries and tight, frantic games falling in their favour. It won’t necessarily be about who produces the best football and, in my opinion, that will put a sour taste on the outcome of the campaign.
Weathering The Storm
With a two-goal lead at half-time, the remaining 45 minutes were going to be about how we dealt with an increasingly desperate Wycombe Wanderers team. With the Chairboys renowned for a very specific style of football predicated on getting the ball forward as quickly as possible and imposing their physicality on the opposition, we knew exactly what would be coming at us but it was still a challenge to stymie it.
For the most part, the Sky Blues managed the game from a winning position fairly well. Yes, Wycombe were able to pound the ball forward and get players into dangerous positions, but the defence generally did a decent job in preventing those players in dangerous positions doing dangerous things. As much as Wycombe were on top for the remainder of the game, we had enough about us to cause them problems on the break, which could have made for a more comfortable final result.
The turning-point in the second-half was the harsh penalty call – which was probably a dive but Ben Sheaf needed to be more aware of the situation in the penalty area he had found himself in – that provided Wycombe with the urgency to turn their attacking impetus up to 11. The game became a fraught, stop-start, end-to-end contest, with both teams sensing the next goal could be theirs, the referee making some strange decisions for either side and the home crowd whipped up into a frenzy of perceived injustice.
With a one-goal lead to defend, it’s not an ideal situation to be in, but we saw the majority of our players stand-up physically and psychologically to the challenge. In particular, Leo Ostigard and Gustavo Hamer provided the team that extra level of quality to help stem the flow of Wycombe attacks. In addition, Maxime Biamou made an important late cameo in holding up the ball in attack and, at last, relieving the pressure on the defence.
From a technical and tactical point of view, it wasn’t a good performance. In terms of character, the team did what was required of them in order to get the result from the fortunate position they found themselves in.
Gustavo Martin Emilio Hamer
Of those three aforementioned names that stood up to the fore in the second-half, it was Gustavo Hamer who stuck out like a sore thumb.
Having looked to have lacked the temperament earlier in the season to play such an emotionally-charged situation – and where we really couldn’t afford for him to pick up a booking – Hamer demonstrated his increasing maturity by rising to the challenge in front of him. The diminutive Dutchman seemed to grow in stature, appearing to do the work of several players in the centre of the pitch with and without the ball.
Whether it was closing down the opposition defence, making important challenges in front of ours, winning 50-50s, or else, carrying the ball forward, playing team-mates into dangerous positions, or taking shots, Gustavo Hamer did just about everything you could want from a central midfielder in that second-half. The frantic nature of the game seemed to suit him. He not only played with a presence of mind but seemed to absorb the energy in the stadium to fortify his stamina.
The only mistake Hamer made was in booting the ball to Ryan Allsop in the dying embers of the game, which led to Wycombe’s disallowed goal, instead of holding onto it or smacking it into the Chiltern Hills. That’s probably where his lack of familiarity with the English lower leagues – i.e. don’t give Wycombe one more chance to belt the ball forward – is an issue, but he’s clearly learning and getting better with experience.
It would have been fitting had Hamer sealed the win with the moment of inspiration that saw him take a shot from just inside the opposition half that narrowly missed the target. However, he was brilliant, and his general aura of brilliance raised the bar for the team and helped win us the game.