As it stands: Wycombe 19-11–7–1 (1st, 40 pts, GD 14) | Burton 18-6–6–6 (15th, 24 pts, GD 1)
Form: Wycombe WWWWD | Burton DLWDL
Last time out: Ipswich 0-0 Wycombe | Burton 0-2 Lincoln
Head-to-head: P10 | Wycombe W4 | Burton W6
Previous meeting: Burton 3-1 Wycombe (26/12/18, League One)
Setting the Scene
Linda, fire up the grill and fill the urn; we’re coming back! For those who made the midweek trip to East Anglia late last month, it’s been almost three weeks since they saw Wanderers in action; for the rest of us, Saturday marks exactly three weeks. But we’re back from our unofficial winter break, still top of the pile and, hopefully, refreshed, ready and raring to pick up from where we left off. Avoid defeat and we’ll be 12 unbeaten – 13 at home.
We could have been given a gentler fixture in which to continue our promotion push, mind you. Burton are among the division’s happiest travellers, collecting 15 points from their ten away games so far – putting them behind only Rotherham and second-placed Ipswich – winning three and drawing three, and scoring an impressive 17 goals. That said, they’ve kept just two clean sheets on the road – at low-scoring Shrewsbury and low-flying MK Dons – conceding 15 times. In fact, their away games average 3.2 goals – our home games three exactly. Put your money on 0-0 in that case.
Despite missing a round of league games, we remain top of the form table with 13 points from the last 15 available. The Brewers, meanwhile, have won just one of their last six – 2-1 at struggling Sunderland last month. When all is said and done, though, this is a meeting of two of the most respected and proven managers in the Football League, both of whom know what it’s like to succeed as underdogs – so don’t expect anything less than a close, well fought encounter. Dare I say that Wycombe could be the next Burton – i.e. a small, historically non-League club making it to the Championship? You know what, yes, I do.
A Deeper Look
For the first time this season, Gareth Ainsworth could have a full squad from which to select. When we put our campaign on pause, Fred Onyedinma was the only absentee. He’s still listed as “likely” to be out, but you never know, do you… Our fortunes in the injury department contrast starkly with the visitors’, who’ve seen a number of key men sidelined of late.
While Fred may have a job to force his way back into the starting 11 – David Wheeler has been excellent and Paul Smyth is, well, being Paul Smyth – the prospect of having that extra bit of attacking quality available is tantalising. We haven’t struggled without it – although we ought to start scoring from open play again – but we’re going to need all the manpower we can get through this busy block of fixtures and further down the line.
Whoever lines up in those wide positions, they could find themselves in interesting individual battles. Due to injury to John Brayford, who made quite a nuisance of himself in this fixture last season, Burton’s reigning player of the year Lucas Akins – a forward by trade – had to fill in at right-back last time out, with the Brewers diverging from their usual 4-3-3 and playing 4-4-2. You’d expect him to be drawn out of position more than an out-and-out right-back, affording Smyth a bit more space, but he is more of a utility man than merely emergency cover; he’s no mug there. Should Brayford be passed fit, though, Akins will be able to resume duties in attack, either as a right winger or centre-forward.
On the left of their back four, Wycombe legend Sir Colin Daniel has started the last two games. There’ll be no time for fawning displays of gratitude, though; he’s been all-action in those 180 minutes, winning 8/11 ground duels, making six tackles (five in the loss to Lincoln) and putting in 20 crosses. If he scored and jumped into the terrace, people would probably shake his hand, but let’s not let that happen, eh. Veteran centre-half and captain Jake Buxton is the general of the defensive unit, complementing the youth of Chelsea loanee Richard Nartey, while on-loan Man United ‘keeper Kieran O’Hara has already been hailed as the Brewers’ best ever thanks to some fine displays between the sticks.
Burton’s attacks are weighted ever so slightly towards the left, where they can expect to be met with dogged resistance from Wheeler and Jack Grimmer, a double act which is fast becoming a staple of our starting 11s. The Brewers get twice as many shots off from that side as the right, with David Templeton and Scott Fraser each dangerous in their own way. The former has the ability to score by cutting in onto his right foot (see below) or ghosting in behind, while the latter has been one of his team’s star men in 2019/20. Four goals and five assists less than halfway through the campaign are solid numbers for any midfielder – Fraser typically plays on the left of a three but was deployed wide left in a four at the weekend – but he’s equally an excellent ball carrier who helps keep things ticking over with short, tidy passing.
So the wide threat is very real, but Burton’s central-forwards have found goals somewhat hard to come by. Akins has three – although he has only made eight of his 18 appearances there – as does Liam Boyce, a Northern Ireland international who’s scored with his left, right and head so far – only not in the same game. He can slot into either probable formation, having played through the middle of a front three in the recent draw with Southend and in a front two against Lincoln.
Injury absentees aside, the only other registered out-and-out striker is fitness coach Chris Beardsley – who we can be fairly sure won’t be kitting up for this one. Anthony Stewart and Darius Charles have faced bigger handfuls, but Boyce did notch 12 goals last term – and a few in his truncated 2017/18 Championship campaign. He is a proven player at this level – likewise Akins, who’s bagged 28 in his last two-and-a-bit League One seasons.
With Alex Samuel more or less up to speed again, Gaz likely has a decision to make in terms of who leads the line. With Burton seeming to play quite expansively away from home, the Welsh (battering) ram’s pace (relative to Adebayo Akinfenwa anyway) could be useful on the counter. That and the way he brings those either side of him into play – by holding it up in wider areas, where he may well find space on Saturday – might just see him get the nod over the big man – who, if things are tight, can always be introduced to make a game-changing impact against a side who aren’t great in the air and concede more goals than most in the final 15 minutes (six to be precise).
An intense midfield battle could ensue if we’re met with a 4-3-3 – good thing we’ve got the personnel for that! Matt Bloomfield is one of a handful of players who’ll have to be managed over the frantic festive period, but one suspects that he’ll start the next two. His role as ‘disruptive 10’ will be one of the keys to frustrating a team who like to play it about on the ground and are bound to come hard at us. Burton possess their own battle-hardened warrior, though: 33-year-old ball-winner and attack-sparker Stephen Quinn, who boasts bags of experience in the top two tiers. The seriously energetic Ryan Edwards will also need to be kept under close surveillance.
So that’s that. How the next 90 minutes pan out and how the time-off has affected our lads remains to be seen. The most important thing is that FOOTBALL IS BACK!
Simple (he says): the same team which started at Ipswich apart from Samuel in for Bayo.
Nigel Clough is at least optimistic of having some key players back, but we’ll have to wait and see who of Brayford, left-back Reece Hutchinson and forward Oliver Sarkic. Versatile midfielder John-Joe O’Toole rather lived up to his name and saw red for an apparent punch against Southend, earning him a four-match ban – later extended to six for verbally abusing the referee. On-loan Everton forward Nathan Broadhead looks set to miss out through injury.
In the Middle: Neil Hair
Seven weeks on from our win at Rotherham, Hair is back in charge of the Blues. His 14 games this campaign – spread across the bottom two tiers and all three cup competitions – have seen him produce 45 yellow cards and two reds, while he’s pointed to the spot three times in the league. This will be his first time at Adams Park, having only stepped up from the National League in 2017.