Having looked within grasping distance of survival prior to Tuesday night, a chastening defeat at Luton Town and results elsewhere have, once again, made relegation a clear and present danger. The week has served as a reminder of the folly of relying on other teams’ inadequacies in order to survive, which should place the emphasis on accruing at least 50 points before the end of the campaign.
That means this team has to pick up 12 points from the remaining ten games, with this meeting with bottom-placed Wycombe Wanderers at St Andrew’s a key opportunity to move three points closer to that survival target. If we don’t, the pressure really will be on this team to massively raise their performance levels as the season hots up.
If there is anything positive to come out of Tuesday night’s shambolic performance against Luton Town, it’s that it may have taught Mark Robins some key lessons about personnel and combinations of them that could stand us in good stead, if corrected, in the games to come.
Most notably, we probably saw the extent of Ben Wilson’s powers in goal, with the stand-in keeper largely to blame for both of the goals that we conceded. Having had a solid run in the side prior to Tuesday night, Mark Robins faces a big call as to whether to back Wilson or to bring in Marko Marosi, who is still nominally, our number one keeper, back into the fold. It would be an easier decision to make if Marosi had not displayed similar deficiencies in commanding his area, making saves and distributing the ball when he has played this season.
The bigger decision is to how to set up the midfield and attack. Mark Robins has seemed keen on playing Liam Kelly, Matty James, Gustavo Hamer and Callum O’Hare in the same side, which, when deploying a back three, means that we can only play one up front. Unless we move to a back four, the manager is going to have to make a tough call – likely, on current form, between Hamer and Kelly – in dropping one of those four midfielders in favour of the extra forward that this toothless team so desperately needs.
Presuming that Kyle McFadzean’s two-game ban is not overturned in time for this game, there is a going to have to be a reshuffle in defence. Michael Rose is the primary candidate to come into the back-line, with Leo Ostigard taking up the central position in the back three, but was out on Tuesday night with a knock. That could see Josh Pask make his first league start for the club in a central defensive position, or lead to a switch to a back four – which would allow Robins to persist with Kelly, James, Hamer & O’Hare in a midfield diamond.
Last Time We Met
It’s fair to say that we’ve had our fair share of luck against Wycombe Wanderers over the years – from Russell Slade winning an actual game of football against them, Michael Doyle’s tackle goal, the 1-0 at the height of the ‘Beast From the East’, Conor Chaplin scoring a header – but our win at Adams Park earlier in the season may well have been the luckiest.
In a fatigued display, Liam Kelly scored his first goal for the club in over two years to put the Sky Blues ahead. With a partisan crowd cheering Wycombe on, Liam ‘goal machine’ Kelly then grabbed his second just before half-time, turning in a knock-down from a Gustavo Hamer set-piece.
The second-half was almost completely one-way traffic as Wycombe desperately searched for a way back into the game, throwing men forward, needling at our players and getting in the referee’s ear. It saw them win a soft penalty when David Wheeler tumbled over a trailing leg from Ben Sheaf, setting up a tense finale.
After Gustavo Hamer nearly made sure of the win with an effort from the half-way line, Wycombe thought they had salvaged a point in the final minute of stoppage time, only for a tight offside call to go against them.
The Manager – Gareth Ainsworth
For the second game in a row, we are up against a team managed by the man that dragged them from League Two into the second-tier. Wycombe’s achievements under Gareth Ainsworth are more remarkable than that of Nathan Jones’ at Luton Town, given the limited resources at the manager’s disposal. Ainsworth has made Wycombe a tight-knit and competitive unit that consistently make things at least difficult for opponents due to their unique style of play.
While Wycombe have perhaps been out of their depth at this level this season, their intense, direct and combative style of football has made teams work for any points they get from them. They have been consistently able to create chances, but a combination of poor finishing and a lack of defensive organisation is why they are currently bottom of the table. However, anyone expecting Wycombe to have given up at this stage of the season is likely to be in for rude awakening in this game.
Who To Look Out For
One of the few positives to come out of this season for Wycombe, is in having found a long-term successor in the battering ram position in attack that had been held for so long by Adebayo Akinfenwa in Uche Ikpeazu. The former Cambridge United and Hearts striker has gradually taken that mantle after starting the season injured, and provides the platform to get Wycombe’s other attacking players into the game while also being a goal-threat himself.
Wycombe’s three biggest danger-men around Ikpeazu are wingers Daryl Horgan and Garath McCleary, along with the nimble attacking-midfielder, Anis Mehmeti. Horgan and McCleary are both very direct runners that can cause chaos when defenders are already occupied by the big man up front, with Fred Onyedinma available as an alternate option either from the start or the bench. Mehmeti has proved an inspired addition after signing from non-league in the summer, initially for the club’s newly-established B-team, and has carved out a niche for himself in the side due to his skill and unpredictability just behind the striker.
Elsewhere, Wycombe have combative midfielders in Dominic Gape and Curtis Thompson who will consistently out-work and out-run opponents. Loanees Nnamdi Oforborh and Dennis Adeniran offer a touch of skill in that area of the pitch but have been used relatively sparingly by Gareth Ainsworth in Wycombe’s fight for survival.
In defence, there is, of course, the presence of Joe Jacobson at left-back that provides Wycombe with a huge direct and indirect threat from set-pieces. In central defence, the versatile loanee, Josh Knight, and giant Ryan Tafazolli have put in some good performances across the season, but not quite enough to counter how stretched Wycombe’s defence can be due to how frantic their style of play can force games into becoming.
In goal, Wycombe have recently switched from Ryan Allsop to David Stockdale, a move most Sky Blues fans would agree represents an improvement.
Where The Game Will Be Won Or Lost
The first task for us in this game will be in attempting to contain Uche Ikpeazu’s physical presence in Wycombe Wanderers’ attack. Leo Ostigard is likely to be more than up to the physical battle, the concern is whether he overcommits himself in that duel, leaving space for Wycombe’s other attacking players to exploit. That risk of being overcommitted at the back may well lead to a back three being the preferred set-up, with Josh Pask’s pace as cover potentially making him more useful than a half-fit Michael Rose.
The best approach to dealing with Wycombe tends to be to impose your game on them rather than changing it to manage their threat. They will want to make this a frantic, end-to-end spectacle in an attempt to create chaos and space in our back-line, our aim has to be to attempt to slow things down, control possession and get them to expend most of their energy in chasing the ball. The poor pitch conditions at St Andrew’s may well favour Wycombe’s style of play.
With the need to control possession in mind, this would be an opportune moment for Gustavo Hamer to rediscover his form and, alongside Matty James, offer us the control and range of passing on the ball in order to dictate the tempo of the game. Of course, we’ll need to match control with a goal threat, which is why playing two up front is likely to be our best plan of attack in this game.