How great is it to have football back? We looked like a team who’d been on a break, but this was just the result we needed to ease any concerns about our momentum being stunted by the time off. Our first home win by more than one goal since early September wasn’t the most entertaining, but find me someone who didn’t enjoy it. After all, it sent us SEVEN points clear at the top of League One. Some observations (hopefully not impaired by the rubbish weather)…
No Post-Holiday Blues
Yes, we looked like we’d been on a break – the first-half performance was certainly a disjointed one – but all we really had to do was win. In fact, all we really had to do was draw. Losing this one, though, might have allowed a tiny smidgen of doubt to creep in.
No such worries in the end! We won in similar fashion to the 1-0 victory over Shrewsbury last month, another game in which we certainly weren’t at our best. It’s just what good teams do – and I don’t think anyone can convincingly argue that we’re not the best team in League One. I’m not naive enough to think the table tells the full story; I’m basing my assertion off our almost unbelievable efficiency, what a pain the arse we’ve made ourselves to play against, and the fact we have lost ONCE in 20 games (21 if you include the final day of last season). No doubt there will be a dip at some point in the near future, but we are the best at this moment in time and we should allow ourselves to believe that.
David Wheels Out His Best
David Wheeler’s Selected Stats v Burton (& Average /90)
|Shots (on target)||1 (1) (1.2 (0.35))|
|Key passes||1 (0.92)|
|Ground duels won||4/7 (2.83)|
|Aerial duels won||7/16 (5.81)|
Data via SofaScore
Saturday’s man of the match has been one of our signings of the summer, proving himself to be Mr Consistent with his performances in what is actually his first non-loan spell in League One. He belongs here. In fact, he showed glimpses of Championship quality on Saturday. That shouldn’t come as a surprise, mind you. QPR signed him for a reason; things just didn’t quite work out.
But their – and perhaps MK Dons’ – loss is our gain. This was the 29-year-old’s most dazzling display in a Wycombe shirt so far. He set us on our way with his second goal for the club, coolly finishing from Anthony Stewart’s precise cross after Burton failed to clear a corner. The bulk of the goals he scored in his prolific 2016/17 campaign for Exeter were close-range tap-ins – but that’s the mark of someone who gets themselves in the right place at the right time. The chances haven’t fallen his way that often this season, but there’s no denying he took this and August’s euphoric winner against MK brilliantly. Now that he’s nailed down his place in the starting 11, you’d back him to get a few more – he was clean through at Ipswich before being scythed down.
Wheeler’s second match-defining moment came in the final minute of the 90 – and showed his quality more crystally clearly than the goal. His ball to Alex Pattison (from 1:28 below) in the build-up to Matt Bloomfield’s game-sealer was one of the passes of the season. Watch as he spots the movement of Pattison, shows for Bayo, races onto the loose ball and turns potential into product. Nick Freeman and Nnamdi Ofoborh are probably the only other two players in the squad capable of similar. It was sublime. Yes, it is possible to get this delirious about someone kicking a football.
Aside from those two highlights, Wheeler’s robustness, aerial prowess and general reading of the game continue to impress. With Sido Jombati needing less protection at right-back than the more attack-minded Jack Grimmer, he spent most of the game on the left wing, shielding and covering Joe Jacobson pretty much perfectly, as well as linking up with him in terms of knocking down those long, floating balls down the line. The average position map suggests that he got the balance between attack and defence spot on – although it’s worth noting that our shape resembled more of a 4-5-1 than the typical 4-3-3. We may have a plethora of wide options at our disposal, but it’s going to take something spectacular to dislodge our number 7 on this evidence.
Protecting the Wycombe Wall
It might seem odd not to focus on the back five after a club record-equalling sixth clean sheet in a row, but they’re not doing anything new – for the most part, this was just another show, of ruthless organisation and last-ditch determination (as lead-preserving clearances from Ofoborh and Darius Charles exemplified). Instead, let’s pay a little attention to the roaming barricade in front of the Wall. Ofoborh (in for Dom Gape who was left out as a precaution) and Matt Bloomfield took primary care of the central-most portion of the pitch, so to speak, with Curtis Thompson more focused towards the right in order to get in the faces of Sir Colin Daniel and Scott Fraser on the Burton left, which they attacked almost twice as much as the right.
Ofoborh served as the tempo-setter and sweeper-upper and generally sat at the base of the midfield three (not his average position on the map), putting himself about in warrior-like fashion once again even if he did only win one of his six 50-50s – he’s a mobile unit you can make life very difficult for opponents in possession. Bloomfield, meanwhile, assumed his standard heel-snapping, lost cause-chasing, true captain’s role, making four tackles and winning 8/13 ground duels. Thompson, though booked late in the first half after a silly confrontation with the Brewers’ Stephen Quinn, never shied away – as you’d expect – and did his best to disrupt any momentum Nigel Clough’s side tried to gather down the left. He made way for the aforementioned Pattison with ten minutes to go, a like-for-like swap to help see out the game – which it certainly did. There are three quite distinct roles in our midfield three, and they don’t always have to be filled by the same personnel for things to work – a pretty decent indicator of our improved quality of depth this season.
On a less positive note, our midfield did give the ball away frustratingly sloppily too often. Ofoborh’s range of passing is superb, but the Bournemouth loanee did overhit the odd ball – or they were misread by the recipient – while Thompson could perhaps do with releasing it a bit earlier – he ended up committing five fouls (two more than even his relatively high average of 3.08 per 90), partly as a result of dithering, for want of a better term – and Blooms, always so determined to advance the ball quickly, might well profit from taking a little more time now and again. We know we don’t really play through our midfield, but maintaining possession there is perhaps our biggest weakness – if not a panic-sparking one.