Preview: Wycombe v Rochdale

Why the rhubarb and custard aesthetic? Well, this is the ‘Anything but blue’ fixture – a great initiative in support of a vital cause in Chiltern Samaritans – meaning we’ll be donning our away kit. And it just so happens that Rochdale’s equivalent is this rather eye-catching number. Sorry about the yellow text!


The Basics

As it stands: Wycombe 25-1285 (2nd, 44 pts, GD 6) | Rochdale 25-8413 (17th, 28 pts, GD -12)
Form: Wycombe LLLDL | Rochdale LLLWW
Last time out: Sunderland 4-0 Wycombe | Rochdale 2-0 Bolton
Head-to-head:

P Wycombe W Rochdale W D Ave. GpG
21 8 9 4 2.52

Previous meeting: Rochdale 0-3 Wycombe (League One 28/09/19)

Setting the Scene

When Fred Onyedinma tapped in his second goal at Spotland in September, it wrapped up a comfortable 3-0 win which sent us second in League One – unprecedented. It seemed like things couldn’t get better. But they did: little old Wycombe punched even further above their weight and ascended to the peak just over a month later. And it was fun while it lasted. Now, though, the walls are closing in on the already cramped confines of the automatic promotion places.

However, unlike Indiana Jones in the Temple of Doom, our fate is (just about) in our own hands. A win keeps Ipswich and Coventry – the two sides who can leapfrog us on Saturday – at bay for the time being. One point could be enough, but let’s not entertain that idea; Ipswich are away at relegation-threatened Tranmere and Rochdale haven’t been involved in a draw for 17 games – the longest active streak in the top four tiers. We’re just about holding onto the best home record in the league and the visitors are the division’s sixth-best travellers. Throw our dreadful recent form and Dale’s inconsistency into the mix and this one is tough to call. Their midweek cup exploits may have taken something out of a squad which is somewhat stretched by injuries, but don’t expect another stroll in the park here.

Opposition Overview

Last season: 16th in League One
Manager: Brian Barry-Murphy (appointed March 2019)
Top scorer: Ian Henderson (ST) – 10
Most assists: Callum Camps (CM) – 5
Style of play: Very possession-based, play out from the back, attack down the wings

A Deeper Look

Wycombe v Rochdale Basic Comparison of Styles

I’ve not had the misfortune of watching the entire Sunderland game, but the short ‘highlights’ laid bare our inadequacies. We’ve really suffered without a true back-up for Jack Grimmer, shipping four goals twice in three games – both against sides deploying wing-backs who were allowed to wreak havoc due to our excessive narrowness, not least down that right-hand side. Among all manner of things going wrong, that would appear to be the main issue.

Despite coping fairly well at left-back against Fleetwood and Rochdale earlier in the season, Giles Phillips’ erratic positioning alone tells you that he is not a full-back. Having been substituted half an hour into the drubbing at the Stadium of Light, you’d expect the young American to be kept out of the firing line for this one. At least it will stop any more goons telling him to go back to QPR because they can’t comprehend that he’s being asked to perform a role which is not his forte.

So we need another plan? If Sido Jombati is fit again – it would be astonishing if he didn’t make the bench last weekend because of anything other than injury – then he could come back in. As much as he’s very much a centre-half these days, he has immeasurably more experience at right-back than his team-mate ten years his junior. Curtis Thompson spent the rest of the 4-0 defeat in Phillips’ place, but we don’t exactly want to be sacrificing such a key midfielder from the off – the same goes for Dom Gape, who has covered there in the past. Or, let’s just throw it out there: Jason McCarthy. Yes, him. News broke today that last season’s fans’ player of the year is set for a loan move away from Millwall, with plenty of interest from League One. Don’t rule out the second return of the Mac.

In any case, this is not the time to be making radical formational changes. A 4-3-3 which can transform into a 4-4-2 might be advisable, though, given our aforementioned neglect of width and Rochdale’s penchant for attacking down the wings and tika-taka-ing their way to goal – even though they’re the fifth-lowest scorers in the division with 29. It does very much seem to be a case of style over substance – although I’m not sure we’re either one of those at the moment.

That width primarily comes from the full-backs in either a 4-2-3-1 or 4-3-3. Right-back Luke Matheson is proving to be one of the stories of the lower leagues this season, firmly making his mark in September by equalising for his hometown club at Old Trafford in the League Cup – a week before his 17th birthday. Full of energy and a solid reader of the game – notably in an attacking sense – he bagged his first league goal last time out against Bolton, having played a big part in 40-year-old Aaron Wilbraham’s leveller against Newcastle in the FA Cup a week earlier. He’s shared right-back duties with Blackburn loanee Tyler Magloire – who could miss this one – while Wales U21 international left-back Rhys Norrington-Davies – who returned in Tuesday night’s 4-1 replay defeat at St. James’ Park – has impressed on loan from Sheffield United.

In general, Dale are actually a bit of a mess defensively, following up last season’s league-worst 87 goals conceded by letting in 41 already this time around, fewer than only the bottom three. On-loan Brighton goalkeeper Robert Sánchez has become more settled since we last faced off, but that’s not to say he won’t still be prone to the odd funny turn. His mad rush off his line in the reverse fixture allowed Adebayo Akinfenwa to nod in one of the easiest goals he’ll ever score.

Whatever tweaks Gareth Ainsworth might choose to make, he can look back at our comprehensive win in the autumn as an example of when the game plan was executed to perfection. His counterpart Brian Barry-Murphy hasn’t changed his philosophy since then and, considering Dale have found themselves occupying the same ‘region’ of the table for most of 2019/20, it’s reasonable to suggest it’s not become any more effective. We saw just 29% of the ball that day – our lowest of the season bar December’s loss at Oxford, of which we played over an hour a man down – but the scoreline didn’t flatter us. We let them have all the time in the world in possession in their own final third, press as they advanced upfield, and looked to counter-attack. We did see a hint of our opponents’ plan B – going long to hit Wilbraham and Calvin Andrew (who’s won 63% of his aerials this season, ten per cent more than the Beast himself) – but by then it was too late.

Callum Camps and Ian Henderson were ineffective on that occasion, and shutting them down will go some way to shutting out Rochdale – who’ve only not found the back of the net in four of their 13 away matches so far. As much as we’ll probably be content to afford them free reign with the ball at the back, the all-disrupting midfield of Thompson, Gape and Matt Bloomfield should come into its own. The question of whether we ought to try and channel some creativity through the middle of the park is one for another day; for now, we just need to return to winning ways by hook or by crook. Pain-in-the-box Henderson is the third tier’s leading scorer this century – racking up 118 goals for Rotherham, Colchester and his current side – so stopping him is no mean feat, but we know how well we can defend. It’s time to recapture that imperious form.

Possible Line-ups

WYCOMBE

If Sido’s not fit, McCarthy doesn’t come back on loan, and Grimmer hasn’t miraculously recovered from whatever has befallen him, it might have to be Thompson at right-back again (but screw it, Jase’s name just looks great on the line-up graphic). This is a great opportunity to make use of Paul Smyth’s pace on the break, but it’s a tough call between Bayo and Alex Samuel as the centre-forward.

Wycombe XI v Rochdale

ROCHDALE

Barry-Murphy does chop and change between 4-3-3 and 4-2-3-1 but may look to match us and give us something different from last time to think about. Norrington-Davies could make his first league start since Boxing Day, while Matheson is potentially the only fit right-back. Jordan Williams is primarily a defensive midfielder but has been having to drop into the centre of defence due to injuries. Keep an eye on 16-year-old Kwadwo Baah, another emerging talent who started the original Cup tie with Newcastle.

Rochdale XI v Wycombe

In the Middle: Craig Hicks

Games in 2019/20 Yellows Reds Penalties Last game Last refereed Wycombe Last refereed Rochdale
20 (8 L1, 6 L2, 1 FA Cup, 2 League Cup, 3 FLT 59 4 AFC Wimbledon 1-1 Southend (L1) Luton 2-0 Wycombe (FA Cup, 10/11/18) Bristol Rovers 0-1 Rochdale (L1, 22/04/19)

Header graphic by Dan Clark
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