It’s hard to write these intros without sounding cocky now, but Wycombe fans can be excused a bit of smugness in these heady times. October was rightly billed as the real test of our staying power and, in spite of the odd change-of-underwear moment – going 2-0 then 3-2 and a man down at home to the impressive Peterborough, and Blackpool’s disallowed would-be winner – we’ve passed with flying colours. Second outright with 30 points from 15 games: that’s promotion form. I’d say here’s the usual, but I’ve tried to be a bit more technical about another dominant defensive display…
The Inverted Trapezium
I may be wrong, but I don’t think this is as complicated as it might have sounded when longest-serving manager in England Gareth Ainsworth mentioned it in his post-match chat. He specifically referred to the midfield shape as such, so let’s try and break that down:
- Essentially, we went with a 4-3-1-2 – so the ‘base’ midfield was the 3-1
- Gape, Thompson and Bloomfield formed a wider than usual 3, Aarons the 1, and Wheeler and Kashket the 2
- Wheeler dropped back into midfield when necessary – which was quite a lot – turning it into a 3-2 (i.e. the inverted trapezium)
Those are the basics anyway. We didn’t always take that shape – Aarons was roaming here, there and everywhere, while Blooms embarked on plenty of customary bursts forward and Curtis Thompson served as an auxiliary centre-back for much of the game – but I think that’s what Gaz was getting at (happy to be corrected, of course). It looked a little something like this (imagine it upside down):
This unfamiliar set-up effectively allowed us to defend with five midfielders – Aarons tracked back and pressed the man in possession well, although he did fade later on, hence his substitution – but also counter-attack as promisingly as usual. The former aspect was particularly beneficial, affording us an extra man to help combat Rotherham’s propensity for long balls up to a target man. David Wheeler is a workhorse in the Alex Samuel mould, but that’s something we perhaps hadn’t truly seen until Saturday when he was primarily deployed as the second striker.
The sometimes bamboozling fluidity of our system certainly seemed to confuse Rotherham, with Scott Kashket granted full licence to do what he does best: give defenders nightmares – and score. Anthony Stewart’s sublime, outside-of-the-foot assist was instrumental, but the Little Genius appeared out of nowhere, beating the Millers’ offside trap perfectly and slotting home from 18 yards (they played it well for the rest of the game, but we only needed that one moment of magic).
As I say, I could have got this all very wrong, but that’s my interpretation of the inverted trapezium – which is really just a version of a 4-3-1-2. When might we see it again? Probably when we face a team stylistically similar to Rotherham.
Battening Down the Hatches
Rotherham crossed the ball 29 times on Saturday. Only Rochdale (30) have put in more against us this season. We tried to stop them and they were just too good, I guess? Nah, we let them have the width to do their thing – although we generally put good pressure on the crossers in the final third, affecting their end product. The Millers are the joint second biggest crossers in the league and the joint most accurate. Even if they’ve tailed off in that department in recent games, such a tactic didn’t come without a fair degree of risk – but we have immense faith in our ability to defend our area. That they posted a crossing accuracy of 17% on the day – only Gillingham (11%) and Bolton (0%) fared worse against us in that sense – goes some way to showing just how rock solidly we held the fort.
Stewart and Darius Charles may not have won the aerial battle, but succeeding with 7/18 of their such duels represented a decent return. Not that that’s all it came down to, of course. These two have been immense, forming a telepathically harmonious partnership that’s helped us to the best away defensive record in League One – and the equal third best overall. Of the two, Tools continues to get more stuck in (another ref may have sent him off for that first-half foul), maintaining his average of one tackle per 90, while the Mango Man – who’s only had to make one all season – keeps the back four ruthlessly organised and sweeps up.
Arguably, we defended set-pieces even more imperiously. Just one of Rotherham’s ten corners found its man (compared to six of ours). That was no mean feat either; the Millers are among the division’s top scorers from set-pieces. We dealt them more assuredly than we’ve done probably all season, though – not least the bus stop routine, which we counteracted very well if not quite perfectly.
There was no getting through us. In fact, just two of the 30 shots we’ve faced in the last three games have been on target: Aiden McGeady’s long-range would-be equalizer which brought the best out of Ryan Allsop, and Blackpool’s leveller. Perhaps our opponents have been lacking in front of goal, but take nothing away from our boys at the back. That of course includes Giles Phillips – who had arguably his best game for us at Bloomfield Road – signing of the summer Jack Grimmer, and the legend that is Joe Jacobson – who won a might fine 10/12 overall duels and made six important clearances.
As for Rocky, it was another quiet day at the office. For the second game running, he didn’t have a save to make, but his not-quite-punch late in the first half was another sign – albeit a slightly nervy one – of his ever-growing confidence. Let’s just hope he’s not too bored.
A Little Bit of Shithousery
Given that Rotherham have struggled against sides who’ve come to the New York Stadium and tried to disrupt their rhythm, there was never any doubt that we’d do what we still do best: engage shithouse mode. Having said that, we weren’t going around kicking lumps out of them, but rather committing tactical fouls like any sensible team would in the right situation. Maybe it was a bit dodgy, but it wasn’t dirty – and the Millers gave as good as they got anyway, with the foul and yellow card counts finishing at 14-16 and 4-3 respectively. It was a “robust game” according to Sam Avery on commentary.
Also, it’s not a tactic that comes without risk. Conceding free-kick after free-kick, accumulating bookings and getting the opposing fans on your back are all things you could do without – even if we seem to ultimately prosper. It’s a legitimate tactic, though, as is time-wasting – which is really clock management, as they’d call it in the NFL – up to a point (I draw the line at Rocky’s faux agony). This team does not go out to hurt anyone, but what’s wrong with some mild winding up?