It was a happy New Year after all then – reasonably so anyway. Apart from winning, a cohesive performance which suggests that we can stick out it out in the top six if not the top two was about as well as we could have started the decade. We’ve got a week and a bit off now, but let’s look back on another memorable result safe in the knowledge that we’ll still be top when we step out at the Stadium of Light next Saturday.
Momentary Lapse of the Season
Worst things first. As Gareth said in his post-match interview, it was so unlike us. There’s no real need to worry about it happening again, but we definitely could have been more savvy to prevent the free-kick from being taken quickly. If you commit a foul, ‘accidentally’ get in the way of the ball, pick it up and slowly retreat, or kick it away – subtly enough to avoid a booking but far enough to allow the defence to organise itself. It’s basic shithousery, our area of expertise for goodness’ sake! At least we didn’t pay the price in the end.
Back to Basics
Ironically, we played more basically in the thrashing by Coventry, but the perilously narrow diamond 4-4-2 with which we went for much of that game made hoof-ball look complicated. This time out, we went back to the 4-3-3 – which morphed into a 4-4-2 out of possession and in the final quarter of the game when the Beast was unleashed. The long balls were still there, of course, but they dropped slightly from accounting for 32% of our passes to 29% – but more importantly, they were played with more purpose – notably Ryan Allsop’s dead balls, one of which led to the goal, an earlier one of which ultimately ended in Paul Smyth’s ‘Miss of the Season’ contender (watch from start of highlights).
Those weren’t the only improvements, though – not that there was much which couldn’t have been improved upon after our worst display of the campaign. Chiefly, we got the balance between pressing the ball and covering position more or less spot on, led by the tirelessly tenacious trio of Alex Samuel, goal-scorer David Wheeler and Matt Bloomfield. Chairboys Central Man of the Match Nnamdi Ofoborh again excelled in the defensive midfield role, sweeping up with an ample helping of clearances, tackles and interceptions, while the return of Darius Charles restored order to the back line – with the exception of that one lapse in concentration, which it’s fair to say he was not best pleased about.
Having been such an awful mess against Coventry, we looked considerably more like ourselves – and bear in mind that we were still missing the crucial trio of Jack Grimmer, Dom Gape and Curtis Thompson. Ipswich may have looked like a team suffering from something of an identity crisis – lacking clear purpose – but this was no less of a well earned point. At the end of the day, we stopped the mini rot and gave ourselves a little something to cheer after a miserable Christmas period.
Nnamdi Ofoborh: Our Latest Borrowed Star?
Of the four loanees who arrived in the summer – Ofoborh, Giles Phillips, Paul Smyth and Rolando Aarons – it was probably the latter two who got fans most excited. As it’s transpired in recent weeks, though, this young Bournemouth midfielder is the standout. The defensive midfield role is never going to be the most glamorous – not least in a team concerned more with getting the ball out of that area than getting it down and playing, but this was his third MOTM shift in his last six appearances – the others being the home win over Doncaster and loss at Pompey. He reads the game like someone with 20:20 vision reads the top row of an optician’s chart, dropping back into defence to intercept or popping up out of nowhere to make a tackle. Omn(namd)ipresent? Sorry.
The 20-year-old’s passing ability has been questioned, but he’s not even made ten senior starts. Besides, as I keep saying, the range is are there if not yet the precision on a consistent basis – but when the two come together, as we saw in the aforementioned move leading to the Smyth chance, he is dangerous. His shooting undoubtedly needs work, but it’s refreshing to see someone have a go from distance. Mind you, his goal at MK in the EFL Trophy – our only one from outside the box from open play this season – was a bit of a thronker.
Down the line, when Dom Gape and Curtis Thompson return, Gaz is going to have a decision to make. Neither of those two – who are so key to what we’re all about – nor Blooms have really put a foot wrong all campaign, but we’ve got a seriously promising player on our hands here and we’re already seeing him improve. To be honest, I’d be tempted to keep starting him solely based on the life-affirming passion he exudes during every goal celebration.
Singing the Praises of Unsung Heroes
Blooms and Samuel will always attract the boo-boys purely because they’re not flash players. It’s fine if you prefer to be dazzled than impressed, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t realise what vital assets these two are to the Wycombe cause. I’ll admit I’ve doubted both in the past, but I’ll also gladly admit I was wrong. I’m not going to go into depth on things I’m sure I’ve covered in previous pieces – if you’re convinced after their exploits so far in 2019/20, you’re probably never going to be – but they deserve extra praise for the amount of crap they take. They’re about the most selfless players in their respective positions that you could find.
Yes, Samuel ought to get a few more goals – and he so deserved one with that sideways scissor- kick – but he doesn’t need to score even ten a season in our current system. He chases seemingly lost causes, puts his body on the line – but uses it intelligently to hold play up and draw fouls – and sometimes takes a true battering all in the name of giving his team-mates the chance of glory. It’s been tough going lately, but with Fred Onyedinma’s return imminent, Wheeler appearing more dangerous in and around the box, and Smyth and Aarons gradually moving towards their best, the Welsh wonder is going to be worth his weight in gold between now and May.
As for Mr Wycombe, I’ve been well and truly silenced by his renaissance. People who simplify his work off the ball to ‘running around’ need to do what I did and pay greater attention to the ultimate effect he has on the team, starting with the person behind me repeatedly telling him to “Get off!”. He doesn’t have to be making tackle after tackle or cutting out pass after pass; his frenetic pressing forces mistakes – however minor – which can disrupt the flow of the game to our advantage and create opportunities (see move for Smyth miss). He barely touches the ball relative to our other midfielders, but he doesn’t need to. But just imagine if he scores the goal which takes us up…