Analysis: Wycombe 3-1 Bristol Rovers

A first home win against that lot in nearly four years: there are worse ways to spend a Saturday afternoon before a misleadingly-named storm sets in and renders the rest of the weekend a write-off. The satisfaction of the result may have shrouded an ‘ok’ but ‘work to be done’ kind of performance, but there were a number of intriguing takeaways as we equalled last season’s final points tally of 53 with 14 games to spare. Here are the key ones.

Starting XI

Actual Wycombe XI v Bristol Rovers

* ➡️ Freeman (46) | ** ➡️ Smyth (69) | *** ➡️ Ofoborh (90)

Selected Stats

Wycombe Bristol Rovers
Possession 47% 53%
Shots (on target/off target/blocked) 13 (6/6/1) 19 (6/9/4)
Big chances (missed) 1 (0) 4 (4)
Corners 6 1
Saves 5 3
Tackles 8 12
Fouls 15 14
Duels won 58 52
Clearances 28 15
Interceptions 5 6

Talking Points

Fortress Adams Park still standing

When Coventry stormed the castle in the final game of 2019, it felt like the end of an era – 14 matches and eight months of invincibility gone in a flash. A draw and three consecutive wins later, though, and our house remains a daunting place to visit. In fact, there is currently only one tougher away trip in the top four tiers: Liverpool at Anfield.

It can be hard to put your finger on the exact ingredients which go into a formidable home record. Winning – we’ve won 12/16 at Adams Park  – becomes a habit and snowballs into that formidability, but what else do you need? The backing of a vociferous support goes quite a long way – and while I wouldn’t say ours could be filed under ‘vociferous’, it’s hard to deny that it’s ardently passionate. And then there’s instilling an element of fear in visiting teams. Form at the time aside, none of Portsmouth, Sunderland, Peterborough or Ipswich have come and beaten little old Wycombe. Three fellow promotion hopefuls – Fleetwood, Rotherham and Oxford – are still to visit, but who would bet against us taking at least a point from each? Our home form might just edge us to a play-off finish.

The birthday boy puts the icing on the cake

You probably can’t give the man of the match award to someone who only plays half the game, but Matt Bloomfield made a bloody good case for himself in the first period here. I’ve been proven wrong on several fronts this season, but on none more so than Mr Wycombe’s ability to excel at this level – now at the tender age of 36. Consistently putting his body on the line in the ‘anti-10’ role, he’s enjoyed the campaign of his career so far.

Only that’s not where he was playing. Nope, he found himself out on the left wing – technically out of position but somewhere he has put in a great shift a couple of times in recent months: at Oxford after we went down to ten and, most impressively, in the 2-0 win at Tranmere in front of the Sky cameras. Those were purely combative performances, though; this latest one contained complementing elements: not least our third goal through one of the coolest finishes from a Wycombe player in 2019/20.

Matt Bloomfield SS Stats v Bristol Rovers

In just 45 minutes, Blooms won almost twice as many one-on-ones as his average per 90 – and more than 30% more than normal – completed as many dribbles as he has in his last four starts combined, and drew twice the number of fouls he would in a typical 90 minutes – including one for the free-kick which led to Darius Charles’ lead-restoring goal. We’ve seen all season the gritty, unglamorous, vital contribution our skipper makes – and that was visible in abundance – but there remains a determined attacking side to the selfless warrior. Rovers didn’t know what to do with him in the final third – as epitomised by Jonson Clarke-Harris’ unceremonious hack to concede the aforementioned free-kick. Even the spectator behind me who can regularly be heard hollering at him to “Get off!” was remarkably quiet…

Midfield shapeshifting

From 4-4-2 to 4-2-3-1 to 4-3-3, a chameleonic adaptivity returned to the team. While we didn’t control proceedings by any means, we were able to stifle Rovers in the final half an hour and – bar a couple of scares – see the game out quite comfortably in the end. Fears of another wing-back wipeout were allayed as the visitors opted for a 4-3-3, but our initial 4-4-2 left gaps between the lines for playmaker Ed Upson in particular to exploit – both through carrying the ball too far and dropping passes into space in front of our back four.

The switch to 4-2-3-1 – planned for when Adebayo Akinfenwa came off but implemented early – packed an extra body into the midfield and limited what Upson – who played four key passes – was able to do. It wasn’t entirely failsafe – Alex Rodman still threatened from the right, looping an inviting cross to the far post which David Wheeler managed to snuff out just in the nick of time – but it relieved pressure as we came increasingly under the cosh. Once Rovers introduced an extra striker and went 4-4-2 themselves, we changed shape once more – this time to 4-3-3 to cruise to victory after an afternoon of choppy waters.

Still missing a brick in the wall

I won’t go into too much depth on this as I’d only be making the same points I did the other day here. All I will say is that Jason McCarthy, after his man of the match exploits upon his return against Rochdale, has done little to warrant keeping his place when Jack Grimmer becomes available for selection again. He may have provided the pre-assist for the opener and whipped in a danerous free-kick which ultimately led to our Charles’ goal, but the was caught upfield too often again and we were almost punished on one such occasion, Clarke-Harris breaking free down the left and into the box, losing possession before instantly regaining it and flashing a low shot inches wide of the far post.

Grimmer, while not as rampaging or relentless a ball carrier, possesses the positional discipline and aggression – he’s attempted 1.5 tackles/90 to McCarthy’s 0.2, although he is more defensively minded – which McCarthy can lack. There’s a trade-off to be made once both are fit, but for a team whose miraculous surge to the top of the table depended on a robust human shield, it seems eminently logical to fully rebuild that as soon as possible. We continue to miss the flying Scotsman.

Jason McCarthy’s season-long heat map | This won’t give the fullest impression as he’s only played 540 minutes of league football (450 for us), but you can already get a good idea of the positions he most often takes up.
Jack Grimmer’s season-long heat map | By contrast, Grimmer (1,601 league minutes) spends slightly more time in his own half.

Do we have a number one anymore?

Perhaps not. Ryan Allsop’s reinstatement probably took a fair few fans by surprise, but David Stockdale is not yet at full match fitness and has arguably made two errors in each of his two appearances (I say “arguably” as Blackpool’s goal took a deflection and MK’s second bounced awkwardly right in front of him – a misjudgement rather than a howler). But other than that and an isolated parry straight back to the striker to tap in from close-range – which was ruled out for offside – he’s commanded his area astutely and generally kicked with precision.

There’s never been much doubt that Allsop is a strong shot stopper, but his weaker command left the defence on the back foot a number of times on Saturday, while he maintains a tendency to parry the ball straight back into danger – as he did with Peterborough’s fourth goal the other week, which was potentially the tipping point for the gaffer. Having competition between the sticks is as healthy as it is anywhere, but this change felt harsh and like something of a knee-jerk reaction. Stockdale may not be in tip-top physical condition yet, but he’s done very little wrong.

Taking our chances

And finally… We were, as we have been for the majority of the campaign – we wouldn’t be in this position if we weren’t – remarkably effective. Only Peterborough (54%) have taken more of their big chances than us (51%), while we continue to sit pretty despite a mid-table xG – although clearly we owe a lot to all those clean sheets. Seventeen of our 39 goals haven’t come from big chances, though – including our first and third in this game and five of our nine this side of Christmas (penalties are always classed as big chances). Those calls to sign a striker last month were ill-informed; we have a creativity issue, but we continue to get away with it by being consistently clinical with what little we do carve out.

Stats an heat maps via SofaScore
Header image by Dan Clark
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