We have travel sickness and, unfortunately, the players can’t just take a Joy-Ride or wear one of those accupressure bands – well, unless they’re feeling nauseous on the coach to the game and that’s part of the problem. It’s hard to put a positive spin on one away league* win in 13 and four since the start of last season (four in 27). We’ve taken seven points from a possible 39 on the road and 24 from 81.
Let’s get some more stats out the way before we look at the possible reasons behind our mauvais voyages. Only two teams in League One last season finished with worse away records than us (18 points): Plymouth (17) and Bradford (16), who both went down. The fellow promoted team most comparable in terms of resources, Accrington, finished with the 11th best record, managing seven wins and collecting 28 points in total. Only play-off semi-finalists Doncaster (19 points) and Charlton (18) showed greater disparities between home and away form than us (17) in 2018/19.
*From now on, please assume that everything applies to league games only unless stated otherwise.
What’s Going Wrong?
Are We Too Cautious?
I’ll get the big one out the way first.
Gareth Ainsworth’s approach has been called negative, particularly after the loss at Gillingham. I think that’s the wrong term – we gave it a right go at Fleetwood and should have won, and we went on the offensive but just in the wrong way at Wimbledon – but cautious is probably a fair enough description. You do have to wonder why, especially when you consider the fact that we’ve scored first in almost half of our away games (12/27) this season and last – but only won three of them.
The only sides who opened the scoring on their travels more times us last season were the top eight and Southend. We’ve got a knack for that, but we don’t hold on – so why try? Why not try and double those leads instead? We actually gained a 2-0 away lead three times in 2018/19 – at Bradford, Gillingham and Southend – and won two of those games, drawing the other (you don’t need reminding which is which). Bigger leads increase your chances of winning. Who knew?
Our shots on target stats back up the suggestion that we don’t sufficiently take the game to the opposition on their patch. In home games so far this season, we’ve posted 25, 19, 21, 25, 18 and seven shots respectively. Away, we’ve managed seven, 15, 14 and 13 – not poor numbers by any means, but you can see there’s quite a stark difference nonetheless.
We finished 2017/18 with an expected goals (xG)** of 1.46 per away game (1.56 actual goals per away game). That figure dropped to 1.03 (1.17) in 2018/19 and, albeit only four away games in, stands at 0.82 (1.00) for the current campaign. In the last season and a bit (27 away games), it’s bang on 1.00 (1.40). On the face of it, we’re becoming less and less creative on the road. That said, we showed even more of a drop per home game from 2017/18 to 2018/19: 1.71 (1.52) to 1.20 (1.21) – yet, as you’ll see below, our home record barely changed***. On the face of it, we’ve become less clinical away from Adams Park.
** Explained here by one of our own, Mr @oilysailor himself 👇
What about xG at the other end, though? Are we taking more of a battering from opponents? Well, in 2017/18, we ended on 1.12 xG against (xGA) per away game (1.13 actual goals against per away game), which rose only marginally to 1.21 (1.78) last term. In 2018/19 and 2019/20 combined, that number drops to 0.95 (1.62), no doubt aided by our generally robust defensive showing so far this campaign. The corresponding home figures: 1.08 (1.52), 1.30 (1.03), and 1.21 (1.10). Those increases in actual away goals conceded relative to xGA suggest that defensive mistakes/ill discipline may be costing us, and we’ve conceded two or more goals in 14 of our last 27 away games, compared with eight of the previous 27.
We won’t know for sure until we start trying to go more on the offensive in these games, but there’s a fair amount to suggest that our caution – I’d hate to say a fear of losing, but perhaps that’s the case to a small extent – is holding us back when we roam. Hopefully, the return of the likes of Paul Smyth and Rolando Aarons helps facilitate a more attacking approach. Anyway, Aarons is going to score the winner at Sunderland in January, isn’t he?
***Our xG per home game since the start of 2018/19: 1.40
Being in a New Division
In 2017/18, no League Two side travelled better than Wycombe. We picked up 43 of our 84 points away from Adams Park, winning 12 and drawing seven of our 23 games. Clearly, we had the right mentality, so was the step up to League One a major contributing factor to our downturn? It wouldn’t be unreasonable to suggest so – we were minnows, really – but then we picked up 35 points at Adams Park, only six fewer than in the promotion campaign, when we were the eighth best home side. Are the toughest away trips in this division tougher than those in the one below? Possibly, although we came close to winning at the Stadium of Light and only narrowly lost at The Valley, producing solid performances on both occasions.
Did Our 12-Match Winless Run Skew Things?
Looking at that spell in isolation, we did lose five of our six away fixtures, but three of those were at Luton, Barnsley and Oxford – all of whom were in great nick at the time – and one at Peterborough, where we caught Marcus Maddison on an unstoppable day. We lost five of six at home too, so any ‘skewing’ was consistent. No, I don’t think there’s much to see here.
I mean, there’s definitely logic to it, but it’s not worked both times so far this season – at Bristol Rovers and Gillingham. In those games, Ainsworth opted to go diamond v diamond, with especially disastrous consequences in the latter. The logic might bear more weight if we matched up in home games too – but we don’t. Why not just do what we do and go with the 4-3-3? Granted, we normally do and still fail to win, but it seems like we’re instantly giving ourselves even less of a chance when we diverge from the norm.
We’re Not Used to Winning Away
Well, we’re not. Our four away wins since the beginning of 2018/19 ranks joint second bottom of League One with Bolton (only Rotherham (three) are poorer in that respect). Of teams who’ve been in the EFL for the last two seasons, only Rotherham, Reading (three), Millwall (three) and Wigan (two) come off worse. Winning becomes a habit; losing becomes a habit; just not winning becomes a habit. That’s the thing with habits: they’re hard to break. One victory won’t do it – that day at Southend didn’t turn the tide – but two or three might.
The problem is that after Rochdale, with our trip to Ipswich likely to be postponed, we might not have another opporunity until late October at Blackpool. Of course, keep up our current respective home and away form and we’ll cruise to a play-off finish, but let’s be realistic. And let’s give those dedicated travelling supporters something to cheer about!