A huge part of what makes football such a gripping spectacle is that it can’t be perfected. Some of the game’s greats have come close, but none of them have ever isolated a formula capable of rendering any contest categorically over before it’s even kicked off. As such, there is no such thing as a perfect performance – but you can come pretty damn close, and that’s what Wycombe did in this one. My word. There’s not going to be any ‘Dark Blue’* today; it really was that good. I’m going to break it down as normal but entirely within ‘Light Blue’. See this as the crème de la crème of Saturday, if you like.
*Apart from the officiating, which I’ve already written about here.
WHAT a Performance
I’m not sure I’ve seen Wycombe play this well in my 16-and-a-half years as a supporter. This was one for the ages as far as I’m concerned. Simply put, we went up against one of the better sides in the league – one rightly fancied for a play-off finish – and made them look ordinary at best. To a man, we were superb, but there were three main keys to our success:
Pressed to (near) perfection: Lincoln are comfortable on the ball. That’s fine, have the ball (they out-possessed us 63%-37%), but we’re not going to let you do anything with it – that seemed to be the approach anyway. Sitting deep and allowing the centre-backs all the time in the world on the ball – Jason Shackell and Michael Bostwick ranked one and two on touches – and remaining patient, we lulled the visitors into something of a false sense of security. As soon as they started to try and up the ante in the middle third, BOOM!
David Wheeler and Scott Kashket restricted full backs Neil Eardley and Harry Toffolo – the latter, who loves to get forward, was reduced to two crosses all game – while Alex Samuel did what he always does and Matt Bloomfield made his most effective contribution of the campaign so far by doing likewise (plus he won the free-kick for the opening goal). Our man-to-man pressing style yielded impressive results: our starting front six, so to speak, plus subs won 20/32 ground duels; the corresponding Lincoln players won 7/31. There’s a reason why the Imps were only able to get ten shots off to our 25. A mere 21% of the action took place in our third, 39% in the visitors’.
Annexing the wings: As above really. Wheeler and Kashket were more defensively orientated than they’d normally be – particularly Kashket, as you can get a gauge of from the average position map below (he’s obscured behind Joe Jacobson).
Lincoln’s main wide outlets are their full-backs, and neither made any meaningful impact on the game, in spite of enjoying more of the ball than most players on the pitch. Our two wide men stayed tight to them and protected Jack Grimmer and Jacobson competently. It might seem strange for the wide forwards in a 4-3-3 to take on that kind of responsibility and leave the striker quite isolated, but I think we’re seeing another benefit of Samuel’s unorthodox interpretation of his position.
Champagne football to see out the win: We’d frustrated Lincoln with the above and tired them out in the process. Their camp might argue that nine games in 34 days had taken their toll, but should that really be that much of a factor so early in the season (especially when only four of them played 90 minutes in the week)? I’ll leave that for you to decide. After JJ had made it 3-1 on 75 minutes (although, due to the lengthy stoppage after John Akinde’s goal, that was effectively 61 minutes), we played our best stuff of the game and, to be honest, battered them; they couldn’t deal with us. Nick Freeman seemed to grow in confidence – and style – as the game went on and came agonisingly close with that beautiful, looping curler against the bar from 25 yards; Adebayo Akinfenwa basically became Lionel Messi; Rolando Aarons came on and rather took the piss. It could have finished 4-1, maybe 5-1, neither of which would have flattered Wycombe.
JAAA-COOOB-SON-SON-SON (Goes and Gets Himself All Three)
I mean, when was the last time a Wycombe hat-trick went viral? How often does any lower league hat-trick go viral? Crazy things are happening around here. Seriously, just whack his name into Twitter. He’s a superstar now.
JJ has scored direct from four corners in 2019 and I reckon at least two were deliberate. The second on Saturday certainly was – he’d already put one past Imps ‘keeper Josh Vickers at the near post and gone close with another attempt, so he’d clearly noticed the weakness – and there’s a good case for the third also being so (come on, the terrace were imploring him to have a go). As I say, I’ve ‘only’ been watching Wycombe since 2003, but if you say you’ve seen a better hat-trick for the Blues then you’re probably lying.
Jack Grimmer: Our Most Underrated Player of the Season So Far
I think I’ll go deep on this in a separate piece, but this man deserves a whole heap of praise. Ask yourself this: have we missed Jason McCarthy? I don’t think we have at all. Grimmer has been consistent, a real threat attacking down the right – his crossing isn’t on McCarthy’s level, but he’s an excellent carrier of the ball and always seems to take up the right position and play the right short pass (he’s more composed than his predecessor in that sense) – and always looks like he loves being out there on the pitch. Jack and Fred Onyedinma are far more valuable to us than Jase alone. Our flying Scotsman has barely put a foot wrong and continued to look right at home on Saturday.
Darius Charles Continues to Inspire
This is another subject worthy of a dedicated post, but who could have foreseen Charles not only returning to football but returning to professional football and putting in such commanding performances? He’s got an arthritic hip, for goodness’ sake; I am in awe over what he’s achieved and continues to, as we all should be. These lads all make me proud, but Darius deserves extra special recognition. Just wow. More to come on that. Also, I really want a mango now.
Nick Freeman: Our Player of the Season So Far?
I’ve very openly stated my opinion that JJ has been our standout – hence the question mark – but I’ve also totally unashamedly flown the flag of the Nick Freeman Fan Club (unofficial). You’d have to be deluded to say there’s not a compelling case to be made for our midfield maestro here. Having started in testing away trips to Fleetwood and AFC Wimbledon and struggled to make his mark, he produced a repeat of his exploits against Reading in the Carabao Cup. He’s poetry in motion and he deserved a goal so badly. The bread and butter of his game is the sometimes perplexing magic he weaves through the midfield; if he can fine-tune his end product, he might just become our undisputed star player.
The New Boys
What do you know? Loan in two Premier League players and they look like being our best two signings of the summer. Nnamdi Ofoborh was here, there and everyf******where after replacing the stricken Blooms and playing almost a whole half, in effect. Eager to get stuck in and seemingly possessing a great range of passing, he already looks a real coup – a boar in his aggression and a bore in the way he tunnels through the opposition. Rolando Aarons, meanwhile confirmed in about a quarter of an hour what we pretty much knew already: he is far too good for League One. There was moment in particular when he stood still and just toyed with a couple of Lincoln players, hanging them out to try and eliciting a ridicule-expressing “OHHHHH!” from the stands. I laughed. What did we do to deserve him?
And Most of All…
WE ARE TOP OF THE LEAGUE*! 🥳
*Someone please inform the Football League Paper