If you’re going to lose for the first time in over three months, you might as well lose to probably the best team in the league. It’s just rather frustrating when you lose by a single goal having played over an hour a man down due to an act of stupidity from your most experienced player. Still, after the decidedly bumpy start, this was another pride-instilling Wycombe performance.
Akinfenwa’s Senior Moment
There’s not much to analyse here, let’s be honest – but it did change the game. The first booking (for a shove) was silly, but the second was plain idiotic. Regardless of the theatrical response of each Oxford player concerned (particularly John Mousinho), Bayo only has himself to blame. When you’re already on a caution, it’s not the best idea to shove someone in the neck right under the referee’s nose. Fans were annoyed and rightly so, not least as it was a professional of almost 20 years who was at fault. The old adage that you win as a team and lose as a team doesn’t really apply when one player lets everyone else down avoidably. After the Darren Bent business in the week, it kind of felt inevitable, but hey, we still love the bloke, he’ll know he screwed up, and he’ll come back stronger (maybe not literally). An apology to the fans who travelled in great numbers wouldn’t go amiss, though.
The Squashed Diamond
It’s not quite the inverted trapezium, but it was another divergence from the norm formation-wise. I can only assume that the intention was to try and stifle Oxford in midfield, but much of their threat comes from the wide areas – which were left alarmingly exposed as a result. And it could be argued that that was the root of the goal. We didn’t have the right personnel in there to make such a formation work either: a defensive midfielder, two central midfielders and a winger. As a result, it was more like a deformed Dorito. Having suffered both of our 2019/20 defeats in games when we’ve gone with a diamond for at least some of the 90 minutes, and had such success with a 4-3-3 or flatter 4-4-2, perhaps it’s time to ditch it – which we were forced to do before long anyway. For the better, as it transpired!
Defending from the Front (and Back)
They won’t necessarily have enjoyed having to defend so intensively much for over an hour, but these players do make defending enjoyable to watch. There’s a case for this – the second half in particular – being our best defensive showing of 2019/20. For starters, only two other teams have gone to Oxford this season and NOT conceded two or more goals. Peterborough lost 1-0 and Shrewsbury drew 0-0 – but they both did so with 11 men. Did the hosts’ midweek tussle with Manchester City take a bit out them? Yeah, probably, but only a bit – and that counted for next to nothing after we’d been reduced to ten.
In the second half, once Gareth had had the chance to properly address his charges and re-shuffle them into an effective 4-4-1 system, we were arguably the better team (unless you’re one of these people who judges the game through an offensive lense). We restricted Oxford to nine shots (just one on target), compared to 12 and five on target before the break – although actually, when you consider two of those directly led to the goal, we limited them to low-quality chances for much of the game. Despite a fairly busy afternoon for Ryan Allsop overall – which included two particularly eye-catching saves – he had one stop to make all second half – and a routine one at that.
Low balls in from wide seemed to be the hosts’ most promising outlet, but the only time they were able to find the net, the flag was raised for offside. Even with Sido Jombati having an off-day at right-back, we looked as hard to break down as ever. We were bound to face more shots in the circumstances – Oxford ended up having 80% possession, not surprising in the slightest given their style and man advantage – but we were probably less troubled than you’d expect ten men to be while chasing the game away to one of the highest-scoring teams in the country.
But we defend from the front as much as the back. We know this. The midfield four of David Wheeler, Nnamdi Ofoborh, Curtis Thompson and Matt Bloomfield grafted and grafted, helping us to the odd brief spell of pressure going forward.
Wheeler proved to be the most important of the four in attacking sense at least, dominating the aerial battle with U’s left-back Josh Ruffels, showing great control and holding the ball up long enough to give us a fighting chance. He wasn’t a million miles away from scoring himself in another man-of-the-match display. Up top on his own, Scott Kashket did his best to make life difficult for the centre-back pairing of Mousinho and the supreme Rob Dickie (the best League One player I’ve seen this season), before Paul Smyth replaced the Little Genius and assumed the same role – as well as adding a new dimension (see below).
Shot Stats Comparison (& Average /Game)
|Total shots||21 (14.3)||7 (13.2)|
|Shots on target||6 (5.1)||3 (4.3)|
|Blocked shots||4 (3.4)||2 (3.3)|
|Shots inside box||13 (8.8)||3 (8.1)|
|Shots outside box||8 (5.6)||4 (5.1)|
The Pocket Rocket’s Rocket Arms
These could prove to be a real weapon as the season goes on. They caused Oxford a few problems, but they could spark panic among worse teams. He’s never going to out-throw Rory Delap, but he makes up for that with the zippy flight he gives the ball. The Ulsterman may well start at Pompey on Boxing Day – and depending on how favourable the coastal conditions are, he might find he gets a little helping hand.
Top of the Tree at Christmas
Wycombe Wanderers: seven points clear at the top of League One at Christmas. Just take a moment to reflect. WHAT a season it has been so far. The games don’t get any easier, but with the next three all against fellow promotion chasers, we have a great chance to strengthen our already unexpectedly strong position. Eight out of 15 points would be a good return from our run of five fixtures which began with the win over Burton – and it’s very much still on.