With the first game and win of 2019/20 in the books, let’s take a look at the good and the bad from it.
Alex Pattison’s Eye-Catching Debut
One of the lesser known summer signings, it was hard not to be impressed with Pattison’s first 90 minutes – not only for Wycombe but at this level altogether. Assured and composed in possession, and clearly as attack-minded as he’s been billed, his surging runs forward – particularly late in the game – resulted in a number of great scoring opportunities, largely for himself. It’s encouraging to see a Wycombe midfielder so willing to have a crack – in fact, he accounted for five of our ten shots on target – and he’d have bagged at least one goal had he gone for power over finesse on occasion. A determined, energetic, runner who’ll cover the width of the pitch, he’ll make plenty happen if given licence to roam in front of Gape and Thompson in a three-man midfield.
An Exciting Front Line Developing
“I’m going to look forward to playing against kids,” said the Beast on Sky Sports during his punditry for Friday’s Luton – Middlesbrough game. That comment riled some Bolton fans, and it wasn’t quite as straightforward as “playing against kids” in the end, but Bayo still had a standout day. I’ve backed him to get 10+ goals this season, but he may end up becoming something closer to a full-time assist merchant. His renowned hold-up play and his instinctive picking out of key passes are staples of his game, of course, and now we’ve got a mouthwatering array of quality finishers to play off him on either side, with Paul Smyth and Fred Onyedinma the most likely candidates for those spots.
On the subject of Smyth, what a talent. He’s too good to be playing in League One and we can only hope that there’s no recall clause in place or, if there is, that QPR don’t activate it – we may well be without him for the odd game anyway, with more Northern Ireland call-ups surely on the cards. Lively, intelligent, and entertaining to the point that he made what was effectively shooting at an open goal special, he’s going to give fans a good workout with how often he’ll be getting them off their seats. Is he Messi? George Best? Has anyone tried drawing a beard on him?
Fred is looking just like the Fred we know and love; David Wheeler instinctively tries to get into those scoring positions and will augment our aerial threat when he’s on; Scott Kashket won’t have become any shyer of a goal; Josh Parker brings his versatility to the table; Alex Samuel, who’s probably going to find himself falling considerably down the pecking order, won’t ever let defenders get a moment’s rest. Nick Freeman, meanwhile, appears to be transitioning into something more resembling a number 10. As for Craig Mackail-Smith, I wouldn’t be too sure that he’ll still be a Wycombe player come 1st September.
All in all, our attacking armoury looks better stocked than it has been in some time. We lack a 20-goal striker – although Smyth could come close if we hold onto him until May – but, with Bayo, Fred and Scott Kashket all capable of scoring ten or so given the right circumstances, it will be a big surprise if we don’t finish with rather more than 55 in that GF column.
Anthony Stewart Reasserting His Importance
‘Tools’ missed 29 league matches last season. I’m not going to sit here and lazily state that we would have picked up more points had he stayed fit – as it happens, we lost 11 of the 17 games that he did play – but there’s no denying that he has the potential to be a huge difference maker. We saw that in one respect particularly on Saturday, with his sumptuous assist for Smyth’s opener showing we he’s our best ball-playing centre-back.
While day one was far from a test for the back four – Bolton recorded three shots in total, none on target – we don’t need a refresher on Stewart’s defensive capabilities. Adam El-Abd may be the more natural enforcer and leader – and the captaincy may, rightly or wrongly, ultimately mean he keeps his place in the side – but he’s unspectacular if solid in possession. A centre-half pairing of Stewart and Sido Jombati – something which we only saw 12 times in 2018/19 – affords us the best of both worlds: defensive prowess and more attack-initiating ability. Now we just need the luxury of both being (and staying) fit simultaneously.
“Super, super Rob / Super, super Rob / Super, super Rob / Super Robbie Couhig!”
Watching on from the thick of it in the terrace, once spotted, our potential new majority owner found himself being passionately serenaded by the singing contingent behind the goal. He looked to be having a great time of it and, frankly, comes across as a thoroughly decent chap. To reiterate, it is still early days, but all the signs so far point to him being the right person to take our great club to new heights.
No Curtis Thompson
We knew that our best player wasn’t going to start the season; he didn’t take part in any friendlies as he continues to recuperate from shoulder surgery. The sooner he’s back, the better, of course, but if we’re to continue with a 4-3-3 then his return becomes even more of a matter of urgency. We need the midfield to be functioning on all cylinders as a cohesive unit. Matt Bloomfield is a weak link in any system, and it’s not simply a case of surrounding him with better players and getting away with it; that’s just not how it works. It’s all well and good pointing to Blooms’ experience, but what does that actually mean in real terms out there on the pitch? Freeman could fill in, but sadly I think that ‘What has he got to do to get a start?!’ question will persist – for another week at least.
A midfield of Thompson, Gape and Pattison – however that may be configured – will prove more than a match for plenty of opponents. We need our star man ASAP.
Not Clinical Enough
It doesn’t matter if you’re playing a hastily cobbled together hodgepodge 11 or the league leaders; you’ve got to put those chances away. Smyth may have netted with his only shot on target, but two of our top three players by xG weren’t on the scoresheet, with Pattison registering five shots on goal – half of our total – and he, Onyedinma and Wheeler missing a big chance* each. As a team, we recorded an EFL-high xG of 3.52; we should be top of the league really. As mentioned, we’re blessed with some excellent forwards now, but we’ll need them to be at their most ruthless if we’re to make any significant progress up the table.
*A chance which a player would reasonably be expected to score
An Imbalance Between the Full-Backs
Jack Grimmer put in an assured performance on his debut, while Joe Jacobson coped well enough – not that either had much thrown at them. It’s in an attacking sense that the imbalance is noticeable. Grimmer’s vastly superior athleticism is the obvious difference, but just as stark is the disparity between the two in terms of crossing. Even though our new right-back’s delivery is one of the weaker aspects of his game, Jacobson still out-crossed him 13-3 – and 8-1 in terms of accurate crosses. I suppose it’s debatable as to whether both full-backs have to mirror one an another in this aspect of the game, but is it not something that should at least be worked on? Given Grimmer’s ability to get up and down, any risk associated with over-committing is relatively low.
The Width of the Pitch
Is it just me or have we made it even narrower? If so, if we want to stretch the play with our exciting wide options, we’re going to be somewhat restricted, being as pitch dimensions can’t be changed during the season apart from in exceptional circumstances. Somebody bring a tape measure next Saturday.
Photos: Ben Prior-Wandesforde