As it stands: Wycombe 12-6–5–1 (2nd, 22 pts, GD 8) | Sunderland 11-5–4–2 (9th, 19 pts, GD 2)
Form: Wycombe LDWWD | Sunderland WDDWL
Last time out: Wycombe 3-3 Peterborough | Lincoln 2-0 Sunderland
Head-to-head: P 2 | D 2
Previous meeting: Wycombe 1-1 Sunderland (09/03/19)
Coming into the Game
Could Gareth Ainsworth have been heading and volleying every ball in imitation from the away dugout? Quite possibly. If reports are to be believed, he was the other candidate for the Sunderland job. As it was, previously promoted Phil Parkinson got the nod and brings a team to Adams Park for the second time this season – albeit in rather different circumstances. It’s a key game for both sides but for contrasting reasons. Sunderland need to kick off another new era positively – their impatient fans won’t give the new boss much by way of a honeymoon period – while we can (juuust about) keep pace with leaders Ipswich with a win, which I’m sure we all foresaw when the fixtures came out.
After last season’s infamous Battle of Bucks – which culminated in a mass touchline brawl, three red cards, and Marcus Bean making plenty of friends – there’s needle in this encounter too. I’m not sure the travelling Mackem contingent will believe it until they see it, but this won’t be another episode of shithousery. We know we’re different now, and while we can still shithouse for England, we’ve got the team to do the damage in a ‘cleaner’ way this time around – as I think we’ve already seen. We ought to witness something a bit more thrilling in terms of scoreline than 1-1 too: our home games average over three goals; Sunderland’s aways average the best part of three… I said we ought to.
Oh, and we might not be far off a majority in the vote. Who knows, perhaps we’re already there? Keep a close eye on Rob’s face for telltale signs if we don’t hear anything before kick-off…
Last season: 5th in League One (lost in play-off final)
Manager: Phil Parkinson
Top scorer: Chris Maguire (RM) – 4
Style of play: Control the game in the opposition’s half and attack down the wings
STAR PLAYER: AIDEN MCGEADY | The Rebublic of Ireland international hasn’t enjoyed a spectacular start to the season by his standards, but he remains in the top echelon of League One stars. He may be 33, but his technical prowess doesn’t look like waning yet. At the end of the day, having scored three goals and assisted two in eight starts, he’s clearly still a threat – not least when cutting in from that left-hand side (Jack Grimmer could have his hands full). McGeady thrived under previous boss Jack Ross, but he’s experienced and accomplished enough to knuckle down and rediscover his best form. In any case, he’s able to produce moments of quality out of nowhere – be that from open play or set-pieces – and we mustn’t take him lightly.
Just How Good Are We?
I think we partially answered that in the spirited draw against Peterborough, but win either this or next Saturday’s trip to in-form Rotherham and outsiders might start to fancy our play-off credentials (come on, it’s time to start believing). Vanquishing Sunderland would send out a message, to say the least. Never mind the fact that they’ve been underperforming; they remain one of the top dogs in League One and will finish sixth at worst. However, a quick assessment of our expected goals (xG) for (xGF) and against (xGA) data suggests that we’re attacking like a top six team and defending like a mid-table one – reasonably reassuring, to be honest.
Wycombe: xGF 18.6 (1.55 per game) – 4th, xGA 15.36 (1.28 per game) – =16th
Back in March, we rose to the occasion and fell just short – dominating a game which we’d have won but for that Rocky horror show. This time, we’re the favourites. Keep doing what we do and we should emerge with something. Produce the champagne stuff we saw against Lincoln and in the second half a couple of weeks ago, and the away end(s) will go into meltdown. This is a huge opportunity. Let’s just hope that their new gaffer didn’t ascertain too much from our opening day showing against his makeshift Bolton side.
Let’s have a little look into this. In terms xG, Sunderland have so far posted an overall xG of 15.4 (1.4 per game). In fact, they’re marginally outperforming that figure, netting 16 goals so far. Their expected goals from open play (xGo) figures might be more concerning. Although they have scored ten from open play, they rank equal 14th on xGo with an output of 7.92 (0.72 per game). They rank 17th on shots per game, both total and on target (11.5 and 3.8 respectively), although they do fare slightly more impressively when it comes to big chances, mustering fractionally under two each game. What do all those bamboozling numbers suggest? Well, it’s still relatively early days, but effectively, Sunderland are attacking like a mid-table side but taking chances actual mid-table sides wouldn’t – which shouldn’t come as a surprise given the individual quality within their ranks.
Defensively, they sit a respectable ninth in actual terms, having conceded 14 goals – although they’re the only team in the division yet to have kept a clean sheet. Their sixth-best xGA of 10.34 points to errors at the back – such as goalkeeper Jon McLaughlin’s calamitous gaffe in the defeat at Lincoln (admittedly, he is usually very solid). Such fragilities become even more apparent when you look at the fact they’ve shipped 11 goals from open play with an xGAo of 5.28. If we look at that simplistically – just for context – and state that they’ve conceded twice as many open play goals as they should have done, they come out worse than second bottom Southend, possessors of League One’s most sieve-like defence. That said, they are one of only four sides yet to concede a penalty and don’t allow too many shots from outside the box. Conclusion: essentially, look to expose their vulnerabilities by sustaining our superb attacking intensity and league-high shot volume (15.6 per game, 4.9 on target).
More broadly speaking, fans haven’t been happy about the style of football – and questions have already been asked about what Parkinson might offer in that respect. Particular concerns have been raised about the full-backs and the constantly rotated midfield – with the exception of Luke O’Nien, who’s played right-back, left-back and as a ten lately. The general mood hasn’t been helped by uncertainty surrounding potential investment either. Gareth won’t stand for complacency, but we might not get a better time to play the former Premier League regulars. Let’s do this.
I’ll have some proper analysis on our own data in the next week or two.
A Selection Dilemma?
Up front, possibly, but it’s a nice one to have! Alex Samuel has been ruled out, but Gaz could well have the rest of his wealth of attacking options at his disposal. Might we see a first league start for Rolando Aarons? Newcastle loanee bags 90th minute winner against Sunderland? It’s written in the stars. Fred Onyedinma seems to have shaken off a knock; imagine those two going at the visitors’ so far shaky full-backs. Adebayo Akinfenwa is arguably in the form of his Wycombe career and should face the Lads having not done so last season, while David Wheeler may start considering their aerial weakness. There’s also the small matter of Scott Kashket – and the even smaller matter of Paul Smyth, whose return hasn’t been ruled out. I’m fucking buzzing.
On the brave assumption that we don’t start with wing-backs again, the back four picks itself. You’d expect Blooms to make his return in Thompson’s place, while the only place to fit Aarons into this side might be on the right – although he was given licence to roam the attacking third against Posh. Watch this be spectacularly wrong at 2pm tomorrow.
Parkinson’s first Sunderland team is anyone’s guess really. For what it’s worth, playing manager, I’ve gone with the 11 who started at Lincoln but brought McGeady and Mark McNulty in for Lynden Gooch and Charlie Wyke. O’Nien has caught the eye in another unfamiliar role so could well continue there (and provide more of a goal threat than he did on his last return to AP 😟).
In the Middle: Kevin Johnson
Johnson has been a busy man in 2019/20, dishing out 28 yellows and four reds in ten games. Half of those have been in League One, and he’s overseen fixtures involving four top six sides: Ipswich, Fleetwood, Bristol Rovers and Blackpool. His last Wycombe match was our abysmal 3-1 home loss to Accrington in March. Moving on!
Thanks to Mark O’Haire for providing the xG data.