On our latest football-less weekend, it’s time for chapter three of the ever-dramatic tale that is Wycombe Wanderers’ 2019/20…
Part 2 of this unprecedented underdog story ended on a grounded note: “We might not go up – we might not even finish in the play-offs…” Truth be told, it’s a bit stronger than “might not” now. Blues fans won’t be itching relive the post-festive period, but no epic adventure is without its pitfalls along the way – and besides, it’s not been all bad.
From succumbing to our ultimate bogey team, to staying top of the league on national television, to eventually recovering some form and the long-awaited completion of the takeover, the third quarter of our 26th Football League campaign was no less eventful than we’ve come to expect from this wonderful club’s recent history.
I’ve made a habit of avoiding dwelling on ‘forgettable’ games this season – and I’m not going to break it now. And you know exactly which game to which I’m referring. MOVING ON!
New year. New decade. New Adams Park opponent. The Tractor Boys rolled into town – maybe that’s why our usually pristine pitch was beginning to resemble a ploughed field – for another one of those ‘glamour’ fixtures. Sky were back too, butchering pronunciations and broadcasting league action from our humble abode for the first time in almost five years. A top-of-the-table showdown despite our festive slump – time to remind the world that we weren’t just pretenders. David Wheeler’s unique finish should go down as one of our goals of the season and ensured that we continued to set the pace – and that Ipswich remain in the prestigious ‘Never beaten Wycombe’ club, rubbing shoulders with Bolton, Forest Green, Manchester City and – who could forget – Kidderminster Harriers.
There was actually a sixth member of the club until ten days later, but they found the exit door at the fourth attempt. While our second trip to the Stadium of Light was another one of those games not to dwell on, the fallout was quite funny. I deliberately use the term ‘fallout’ as some Wycombe fans descended into a meltdown of nuclear proportions, questioning the desire of the players, slagging them off, and – a contender for social media overreaction of the season – demanding a refund. Sunderland’s entitled Twitterati also tried to force some kind of e-rivalry – seemingly predicated around Darius Charles’ iconic words – which was quite cute. Shit weekend, but at least the next one couldn’t be as bad.
And it wasn’t! Wanderers emerged victorious from the inaugural ‘rhubarb and custard derby’ – as part of the Banish the Blues initiative in support of the Samaritans, we donned away colours at home, and Rochdale came decked out in their own suitably dazzling away threads – after recovering from, depending on interpretation, a goalkeeping howler or a moment of mad misfortune. Jason McCarthy ran the show on his third debut – including netting with what would go on to be termed by David Wheeler as “a lovely shanked dink” – and Joe Jacobson’s second nerveless stoppage time spot-kick sealer of the campaign secured all three points in quintessential Wycombe style. We couldn’t back it up three days later in Cambridgeshire – but only the officials will know what was going through their minds when they produced one of the most flabbergasting red cards any of us have ever seen. You do not want to play 70 minutes a man down away at a Peterborough side in full flow. A second 4-0 thrashing in 11 days – only with mitigating circumstances this time.
Next up: oh wait, ANOTHER weekend off – number five. At least it allowed for the postponement of the inevitable: the obligatory defeat to Coventry. We weren’t to be left football-less for a full, fortnight, though; Blackpool – a side we’d not beaten since Nnamdi Ofoborh was born – were the penultimate midweek visitors of 2019/20. The date – Tuesday, 28th January – will be remembered solemnly rather than fondly, with devoted Chairboys supporter Mark Bird being taken ill before kick-off and tragically passing away later that night. We did play some of our best football in months and bag another vital three points – and our second and final January signing, a certain David Stockdale, came in between the sticks – but this was one of those occasions on which football really did pale into insignificance.
The rousing tribute to Mark was the only part of the following outing worth remembering. It’s not nice going to the soulless bowl, let alone losing there. A performance more stale than last Christmas’ mince pies left the light and dark blue army in a right rotten mood – although the anger which ensued was nothing short of pathetic, especially the one or two calls for Gareth Ainsworth to go (which you have to laugh at or you’d just become a quivering wreck). There’s been too much overreaction this season; I dread to think what we’ll be treated to if, as is completely feasible and acceptable, we’re not celebrating promotion in May.
Thankfully, there would be no reason for such nonsense a week later – although there was a surprising lack of concern about a decidedly sloppy display. I suppose a win over our good friends from the West Country will always spark wild delight regardless of how it comes. Matt Bloomfield continued his critic-silencing, career-best campaign by tucking away the third with laser precision – one of the finishes of the season by anyone in the quarters. Had Gas star Jonson Clarke-Harris’ shooting boots not vacated him, it probably would have been a different story, but they had and that was that. For the first time in a decade, we’d made it through a campaign without losing to that lot. I hope the horses were ok.
I’ve probably been a bit too reserved at times on the blog, so I’m going to call the Fleetwood game – the final action under the Adams Park lights of 2019/20 – what it was: an utter shitshow. We couldn’t even enjoy Joey Barton’s sending off for, well, being Joey Barton; that’s how thoroughly demoralised we’d become by then. Once and for all, we’d established that our second string lags some way behind the first team, but this bitterly cold, bitterly disappointing night really was the nadir regardless. Anyway, no dwelling…
Big reaction needed then – a massive cliché but entirely accurate and, more importantly, entirely probable. There can’t have been much that Gareth could have said to his troops as we prepared to take on relegation-destined Bolton at the University of Bolton Stadium (that’s the Reebok Stadium to those who grew up in the 2000s and 2010s). A trip to a side with next to nothing to play for and offering next to nothing, ourselves having failed to score in six straight away matches and lost the last five by a combined 13-0. Nothing less than a convincing win would be acceptable. And that’s what we got, through a combination of the most hilarious own goal since Chris Brass’ self-nose-breaker and the magic of one Wilfred Oluwafemi Onyedinma, making his first start in an eternity. There was nothing to get carried away about, but our most complete showing since November rightly instilled at least a smidgen of fresh optimism.
And so barely seven weeks later, part three of four was done and dusted. An assured afternoon’s work against another badly struggling outfit, Tranmere, ensured we recorded back-to-back victories for the first time in almost four months. But that wasn’t the major story. Neither was Adebayo Akinfenwa’s 53rd Wycombe goal to draw him level with Nathan Tyson as our all-time leading scorer in our Football League era. Nor was the sight of Fred back to his imperious, full-back-shredding best. Nope, just over half a year on from rocking up on the scene and giving us hope of a slightly more comfortable season, the Couhigs were officially majority owners. And whatever happens between now and May, that is the most important thing. This club is in a great place and we can look forward to a bright future, with Gaz and Dobbo in tow having been handed beefed-up new deals. We probably won’t go up – I’m just being realistic – but things most certainly are looking up.