This third spot is beginning to feel like home, isn’t it? Almost a quarter of the way through the campaign and, while we’re yet to face any of the ‘elite’ sides in the division (although we’re about to in the form of Peterborough, Sunderland and Rotherham), we’ve more than matched a couple of very good ones – MK Dons and Lincoln. Pompey should fall into the latter bracket but definitely don’t at the moment, yet this win was satisfying for its own reasons.
The Main Tallking Points
Gotta Love a Dirty 1-0 Win
Well it wasn’t clean – and I don’t mean because of Nnamdi Ofoborh‘s horrible lunge which earned him a red card. Although we composed ourselves for the last 15 minutes or so, it was a messy performance for a large part. We produced fewer shots (seven) than in any home game so far this season – and we didn’t have a single one until first half stoppage time (Darius Charles will take some beating in the 2019/20 ‘Who can most precisely place the ball on the away end roof?’ contest); there was some carelessly loose passing going on; and we only secured the points thanks to a comical handball and the consequent penalty. All things which make the taste of victory even more satisfying! Five and seven-goal thrillers are boring.
A goalless draw wouldn’t been a bad result, but how good does it feel to stop the winless ‘streak’ at two games? With the 3-2s and 4-3s, the drama of the occasion can perhaps be overwhelming to a detrimental degree. When you grind out a 1-0, there’s less ‘in the moment’ pandemonium – although that would have been different had the winner come in the 92nd minute and not the 82nd – and more of a measured, though no less jubilent, reaction. It also arguably says even more about the mentality of the team. Sure, we can mount a memorable comeback, but we’re also patient in a stalemate.
Had it ended 0-0, while there’d have been no shame in that, the morale boost of the actual result cannot be understated. Well, maybe boost isn’t quite the word, but the feelgood factor has been more or less restored to pre-Gillingham levels – so basically as high as it’s been around here in years. We’ve got plenty to work on, but it’s better to be working on it as a winning as a winning team, and without the blinkers of euphoria obscuring the shortcomings.
A Defensive Unit Full of Possibilities
Defensively, we got away with it on a couple of occasions – namely when Ellis Harrison (who saw red for his stupidity) burst past a somewhat slow to react backline on the break, and when we stood off the dangerous Ronan Curtis and almost allowed him to walk it in. We are just not consistent when it comes to putting pressure on the ball around our own box, applying it much better in some games than others, and there are plenty of players at this level who will punish you for that – as Southend’s Stephen Humrphys demonstrated. The good news is that other than those scares, we were sound – and I’m including the improved Ryan Allsop in the ‘unit’.
What do I mean when I say it’s full of possibilities? Well, actually, I’m thinking mainly offensively. Let’s start with Allsop. His kicking was superb on Saturday, particularly when he looked long and wide right for Scott Kashket, who he almost sent through on goal at least once. Lumping it up to Adeabyo Akinfenwa to flick on is one option, but with so much pace in attack these days, I reckon we’ll be seeing a lot more of the even more direct method. When not going all Scott Brown and trying to set up goals, Rocky made the saves he needed to (all two of them) and showed the odd glimmer that he might be gaining more command of his box – although he still appears very hesitant with crosses and high balls. There’s work to be done, but he’s on the right path to vindicating Gareth Ainsworth’s decision to stand by his man.
Full-backs Jack Grimmer and Jamie Mascoll proved their attacking credentials once again. Grimmer took a while to start bombing forward – presumably we didn’t want to go too gung-ho right from the off – but once again whipped in some wrecking ball crosses. Defensively, he wasn’t particularly troubled (Pompey don’t do much down the left) but nonetheless won 100% (3/3) of his ground duels. Overall, we haven’t missed Jason McCarthy. His successor has arguably been our signing of the summer so far – and he seems to be getting better by the week. The only concern is that’s the position in which we most lack depth – at least Sido Jombati is more or less fit again and can still operate as a right-back.
Mascoll, meanwhile, came on for only his second professional league appearance, replacing the stricken Joe Jacobson just before half-time. He already looks like he’s been working on his defensive positioning, but he really excelled in possession, looking right at home gallivanting down the left and, despite looking hesitant over which ball to play at times, displaying a lovely range of passing. Is he JJ’s eventual successor? It’s still too early to say, but he looks like he’s learning – and that can only be a good thing. Oh, he was our joint most accurate passer, by the way. That includes his corners, which were all on the money – one of which, of course, led to Pompey skipper Tom Naylor‘s surprise decision to join the NBA. There’s a lot to like about Mr Mascoll.
More Midfield Messiness
We were overrun in the middle of the park by Accrington and didn’t exactly win the battle this time out either. Too often we looked too keen to get rid of the ball and played the wrong pass. Even though we conceded possession fewer times (160) than in any game this season bar the opener against Bolton, we still gave it away sloppily in some potentially perilous positions. Our eagerness to mount quick attacks through the middle is great, on the face of it, but it’s not quite falling into place for us at the moment. Be more like Nick Freeman usually is*: cool, calm, collected. We can take our time; we just need to do so more often in certain situations.
Potentially of greater relevance, though, is that we may well see another midfield three at Rochdale. Ofoborh will miss that and the home games versus Peterborough and Sunderland (assuming Ipswich away is postponed for international call-ups, as is likely); Matt Bloomfield went off as a precaution, but a break would surely benefit him after the battering he’s taken recently; and Curtis Thompson, while in the squad at Gillingham, will need to be eased back in after several months out of action. Dom Gape–Alex Pattison-Freeman then? It’s great that we have such depth in midfield these days – I wouldn’t be too surprised to see Jacob Gardiner-Smith on the bench on Saturday – but I can’t help but feel that a slight lack of stability in that department is hindering us, not that we can help much of what’s causing it.
*He hasn’t been quite himself in the last two games. Tut tut, Nick.
Let’s Hear It for the Old Guard
Bayo is 37. He’s one of the oldest active pros in England. In fact, the only player older than him to have scored in the top four divisions this season is Doncaster’s James Coppiner (38). Watching the big man out there lately, though, you wouldn’t know that he fell into that category; he’s in his best shape since coming to Wycombe just over three years ago. It’s easy to say he only scored a penalty, but he led from the front – he took the armband after Blooms and JJ had been forced off – and did his thing throughout the game. How can you not love the bloke?
As for Blooms and JJ – 35 and 32 respectively – the former has enjoyed a renaissance while the latter has put his poor spring form so far behind him that he’d need the TARDIS to go and retrieve it (he’s been our player of the season so far). Both put their bodies on the line – albeit Jacobson less obviously as he’s rarely hurtling towards opponents – and, unfortunately, both have come off worse for wear lately. Fingers crossed they’re on the mend quickly.
These three are not the future of Wycombe Wanderers – and you’d expect this to be Bayo’s last season if not the others’ – but are very much a part of the present. They’ll be remembered as key guides on the journey to our highest heights – and Blooms has been there for the lowest lows. They’re heroes, really, and they’re the ideal kind to guide the next generation of them.