Here’s a breakdown of the good – and let’s face it, there was a LOT of good – and not quite so good from last night’s unfortunate Carabao Cup defeat to Reading.
If I leave here tomorrow / Would you still remember me? / For I must be traveling on, now / Cause there’s too many places I’ve got to see
I’m blaming this one on @Jonnyraythrash on Twitter after they referred to him as Freebird 😉. In all seriousness, though, let’s hope that the opening lyrics to Lynyrd Skynyrd’s signature number aren’t some kind of weird, niche prophecy – because if Nick Freeman leaves, we’ll be significantly worse off.
With his angular running and dribbling reminiscent of Zinedine Zidane – or a mid-2000s FIFA game version of Zidane – Freeman has that instantly striking style you’d expect from any flair player. It’s possibly only been in the last year or so that his quality has become obvious, but the potential has always been there. He’s a serious talent.
He largely ran the show and made a Championship midfield look average at times, not showing any fear of taking opponents on, step-over-ing his way into space, and creating chances for team-mates. He led the team in six categories last night and ranked second in two. If he can do that against a Championship side – even a somewhat disjointed one – I think it’s fair to say he’s capable of similar against MK Dons on Saturday.
It wasn’t a perfect performance and he’s not a perfect player – his end product was severely lacking and he’s weaker off the ball than others, in spite of getting back to defend strongly a couple of times – but it didn’t have to be perfect and he doesn’t have to be perfect. I’ve seen it commented that add goals and he’ll be a Championship player. While his lack of pace will probably always hold him back to an extent, I don’t entirely disagree with that prediction; he’s certainly got the makings of a top end League One player.
After last night, I’m not sure what else he has to do to get a start – in Curtis Thompson‘s absence at least. Even when our (unofficial) POTS is fit again, the debate over whether he regains his place is one worth having – crazy as the thought of that would have been four or five months ago. Will Gareth Ainsworth go for a 4-1-2-3 as opposed to a 4-2-1-3? Maybe in some games.
As much as football is about team-wide balance, it’s also about balancing individuals’ strengths and weaknesses. Does Freeman give us more in an attacking sense than Matt Bloomfield does in a defensive sense? Yes. More than Thompson? As I say, a debate worth having. At the very least, with the addition of Alex Pattison and Jacob Gardiner-Smith – and David Wheeler, who’s something of a utility man – we have a good variety of midfield options, which we couldn’t say last season.
Oh, just one more thing: if he is only on the bench, Ainsworth isn’t going to play him just because someone shouts “FREEMAN!” from the back of the Frank Adams.
Here’s one take:
The revered Paolo might have something to say about that, but Tools was bloody brilliant. I was singing his praises in the corresponding piece after the Bolton game, so I won’t go back over the same ground, but he – along with impressive debutant Giles Phillips – almost made dealing with an £8 million striker look easy. George Pușcaș did score Reading’s equaliser, but that was really down to a well threaded through ball; otherwise, the Royals’ record signing was largely kept quiet.
Commanding, composed, and a true athlete, the 26-year-old exhibited the best of everything you want in a centre-back. He only lost one of his six aerial duels and recorded the the sixth best passing accuracy in the game, better than any other Wycombe player (81% – 26/32).
Of all the defenders on the pitch, only Reading’s Michael Morrison lost possession as few times (nine) as Stewart. I’m having to base this purely off memory, but I don’t believe any of those possession losses put us in any peril. Only Jamie Mascoll – another promising starlet stepping out in the quarters for the first time – won the ball more times than Tools for us (12-11).
The only Wycombe youth graduate still at the club is truly one of our own – and he’s our best defender. Keep up these performances and stay fit – the big sticking point – and the Championship clubs will come knocking. Even only three games into the season, I’m tempted to say that he’s in the form of his life. A partnership with Sido Jombati when he returns? Now there’s a thought.
As well us powering us into the lead with a glancing-bullet hybrid of a header, Samuel held the ball up superbly and bested his man on several occasions under pressure. I don’t think he’ll ever be clinical enough to be a main striker, but he took up some excellent positions in the box and tied with Pușcaș and Charlie Adam for total shots.
His indefatigable running at defenders and chasing of lost causes make him a unique impact sub among our ranks, but that’s not to say he won’t start a lot more games. Maybe we don’t need to have a best front three; maybe it’s just a case of deciding opponent by opponent. Against deeper-sitting teams whose back lines might take more intense pressure to unlock, Samuel will continue to be key.
I’m far from alone in having criticised Rocky’s lack of command and tendency to make costly errors, but I don’t think anyone can deny that’s he’s made a very solid start to 2019/20. Against Bolton, he looked more confident going for the ball in the air, and while he could perhaps come off his line with more authority and certainty, he did well to punch away two dangerous-looking second half corners.
Our number one made some fine saves, with 5/6 of them stopping shots from inside the box. Was he at fault for the goal? It’s been suggested, but I think that’s very harsh. If he keeps coming, Pușcaș either rounds or lobs him, or he concedes a penalty like at AFC Wimbledon last season. If you’re being picky, you could say that he should have got a stronger hand to what was a relatively weak shot, but the fact that he kept out the initial effort at all suggests that he made the right call to halt his rush where he did.
I’m still not 100% convinced by Allsop, but if Ainsworth was going to bring a loan ‘keeper in, I think he’d already have done it. Long may this current form continue. Even if it doesn’t, Cameron Yates has looked a very handy* shot stopper in warm-ups and friendlies.
*pun fully intended
The New Kids on the Block
Ok, so Giles Phillips and Jamie Mascoll are both 22, but the former was making his pro debut and the latter had only ever played in non-League and the EFL Trophy. Both should be very proud of their performances last night. We’ve got ourselves exciting new options at centre-back – at least for the season – and left-back.
On paper, having to contain a potent sharpshooter like Pușcaș represented a formidable assignment for Phillips, but the young American rose to the occasion, only really finding himself caught out and needing to commit a tactical foul on a handful of occasions – due to a sometimes over-eagerness to go straight towards the player in possession. Another athlete in the heart of defence, his height and relative pace will stand him in good stead. The early signs are that Adam El-Abd might be looking over his shoulder at two potential replacements.
As for Mascoll, he picked up where he left off in pre-season. I’m going to use that word again: athlete – and that’s not just because he’s not Joe Jacobson. JJ should keep his place based on his early season form, but if he begins to struggle with the physical demands of this division again – primarily the pace – then Mascoll is waiting in the wings. The former Charlton and Dulwich man’s passing was a bit hit and miss, but he constantly looked to help initiate attacks by driving forward and can take more risks in that respect thanks to his speed – he shouldn’t find himself horribly stranded upfield too often. His crossing, while dangerous at its best, could do with some more work in terms of consistency, but he remains an encouraging prospect on the whole.
The First Partridge on the Pitch of the New Season (AHA!)
Our other debutant – actually making his second Wycombe debut – looked unfit more than anything. He set up Samuel’s goal with a lovely, fizzed-in corner but posed little attacking threat in general. Deployed on the left, it might take a few games before we see what his best position is likely to be – and he may well need a few games to bring him up to match fitness. On the plus side, he won the majority of his duels (4/7 on the ground and 7/10 in the air), but otherwise there was nothing to write home about. All in good time, I’m sure.
It’s worth noting that Reading’s new ‘keeper Rafael went into shithouse mode to cap a MOTM first appearance for the visitors. Bounding along the line and standing on one side of the goal while pointing to the other are still allowed within the new laws, but it can’t half be annoying for the takers – then again, that’s kind of the point. Still, only one of our four spot-kicks was actually any good: the first by Dom Gape. Freeman went for the corner but just didn’t put enough on it; Alex Pattison‘s effort only squirmed in off Rafael; you could tell from Fred Onyedinma‘s short run-up alone that he was going to miss. Just put your foot through it!
I’d be confident enough in Gape taking pens in match situations – Jacobson’s days of doing so are numbered, you’ve got to feel – but do we not have any other forwards who can be relied upon? I assume the Beast was lined up to take the fifth kick in the shootout, and he’s showed in the past that he can do it from 12 yards, so maybe hand it to him next time? I don’t know, but it needs figuring out and we need to practise. Jason McCarthy would have been my pick, but that might be a bit tricky now.
Expletive-Spewing Boo Boys
If anyone was looking for an F-word after the game, I think the foul-mouthed individual next to me used them all up. They spent all game hurling abuse for the slightest thing – a misplaced pass, a wayward shot, pretty much everything. Nick Freeman was brilliant, but apparently he’s “fucking shit” because he missed his penalty. Honestly, why even go to football?