Wycombe making a good fist of their puncher's chance - Interview
Friday, 18th Dec 2020 10:59 by Clive Whittingham
Written off by one and all pre-season, and hamstrung by injuries and a dire start to the campaign, Wycombe have been competitive and are well in with a chance of surviving this year, according to Tom Hancock from Chairboys Central.
How have Wycombe found it so far?
Tough – but I don’t think anyone expected otherwise. After conceding a stoppage time winner against Rotherham on the opening day in a game we absolutely should have won, we got a rude awakening in the form of a 5-0 thrashing at Blackburn, followed by a 2-0 loss Swansea in which we were equally outplayed. Injuries – particularly in midfield, where we were just overrun – weren’t helping, but we looked completely out of our depth. Things improved slightly in another 2-0 loss – this time at Luton – but we went into the first international break having played four, lost four, scored none and conceded ten.
The time off allowed us to make some more additions – centre-back Josh Knight and midfielder Dennis Adeniran arrived on loan from Leicester and Everton respectively and have both been revelations – and get some more players back, but we were still comfortably beaten by Millwall even if we competed much better and the score was only 2-1. Away to then table-topping Reading in the next game though, we looked truly solid against an established Championship side for the first time, only going down 1-0 to a moment of brilliance from Lucas João. Having been cheated out of a famous point at Norwich by Mario Vrančić’s disgraceful stomp-dive, we finally picked up our first second tier point – at the eighth time of asking – in a 1-1 home draw with Watford in front of the Sky Sports cameras. We should have won, with Adebayo Akinfenwa scaring the Watford centre-backs shitless in his first start of the season – and his first at this level.
A historic first Championship win came three days later as we saw off Sheffield Wednesday 1-0 – and that was followed by a memorable stoppage time victory over Birmingham at St Andrew’s (which was bittersweet as the away end would have been absolute carnage with fans in). Since then, we’ve gone on a nine-game streak of four losses and five defeats as the injuries have started to pile up again. Boss of the midfield Curtis Thompson has been the biggest loss, but Anthony Stewart is also a key absence from the back four that had become rock solid (although midfield is still where we’re hardest hit and we head into Saturday’s game with only two fit senior midfielders). That said, no one is out long-term as far as I can tell and players are steadily coming back.
All things considered, we’ve done remarkably well to still be in touch with 21st place as we approach the halfway point of the campaign. The fact that the club with the second-smallest budget (Coventry, according to manager Mark Robins anyway) could splurge £1.2 million on one player while we paid probably less than £100,000 in transfer fees overall this summer just shows how up against it we are. As long as Gaz and the boys keep the faith though, so will (most of) the fans.
Wycombe league results so far…
Three defeats coming into this one though – concerned?
Our performance at Bournemouth last time out was probably our best of the season, and we even seemed to get so inside their heads that two of their players engaged in some handbags with each other on the pitch. Considering that and, as mentioned, the fact that we’re close to having more or less a fully fit squad again, I’m not really concerned. This is a must-win game really, but it’s probably even more so for you, which I hope will count in our favour.
Has the much-talked about style of play from last season been changed or modified for the higher level?
Not at all. We still have our default style of play – very direct, and often extremely direct when Akinfenwa’s on the pitch – and we still adapt to the opposition to try and exploit their weaknesses and disrupt what they’re good at. Our fans often talk about plan A and B, but that’s a very binary way of looking at the game and Gaz will always make tweaks to one extent or another. If Uche Ikpeazu can stay fit, things might change slightly as he’s much more mobile than the big man and probably capable of playing up front on his own – which would allow us to accommodate three of our wealth of exciting wingers / number 10 options behind him – but Gaz’s philosophy was never going to change; that’s not a straightforward thing to do and nor is it necessary. Effectiveness > aesthetics.
Presumably Ainsworth is pretty bulletproof for all he's done, despite the league position?
He’s unsackable. I’ve said this before, but Gareth Ainsworth is Wycombe Wanderers in many ways; I think that’s only natural when a manager’s been at the helm for more than eight years. The only way he leaves the club is if the right opportunity comes up – and it really would have to be the right opportunity. Personally I don’t think he’d have taken the Sunderland job had he been offered it. QPR on the other hand … Let’s not go there (although if we beat you and Warburton gets the boot, the whole Wanderers fan base will lose its collective shit).
Any talk about January transfers potentially?
Nothing yet. We’ve maxed out the 25-man squad cap, so we’ll have to offload to bring in anyway. The number one priority has to be to extend Knight’s loan until the end of the season, and we could do with another midfielder capable of bringing the ball out from the back and turning defence into attack, something only Adeniran does on a consistent basis. Some will cry ‘15-20 goal striker’, seemingly forgetting that you only get about eight of them in the Championship every season and we don’t have millions sloshing about. The owners have preached sustainability since day one and we will not be abandoning that in a very possibly unsuccessful bid to avoid relegation. This league is financially ridiculous and we are not going to become a part of that.
Ins >>> Uche Ikpeazu, 25, CF, Hearts, Undisclosed >>> Jason McCarthy, 24, RB, Millwall, Undisclosed >>> Daryl Horgan, 28, LM, Hibs, Undisclosed >>> Ryan Tafazolli, 28, Hull, CB, Free >>> Giles Phillips, 23, CB, QPR, Free >>> Curtis Anderson, 19, GK, Unattached, Free >>> David Stockdale, 34, GK, Birmingham, Free >>> Anis Mehmeti, 19, AM, Norwich, Free >>> Garath McCleary, 33, RW, Reading, Free >>> Dennis Adeniran, 21, CM, Everton, Loan >>> Josh Knight, 23, RB, Leicester, Loan
Outs >>> Sido Jombati, 32, RB, Oldham, Free >>> Jamie Mascoll, 23, LB, Bolton, Free >>> Craig Mackail-Smith, 36, CF, Released >>> Jacob Gardiner-Smith, 23, DM, Released >>> Curtis Anderson, 19, GK, Walton Casuals, Loan >>> Giles Phillips, 23, CB, Aldershot, Loan
Where is the team strong and where is it weak?
We’ve been battered by injuries at the back and in midfield, so those areas have naturally been weakened. We’re strong between the sticks though, after some wobbly patches in the previous two seasons, Ryan Allsop has been immense ever since the play-offs and seems to be becoming more and more commanding in addition to continuing to pull off some fine saves. We have an array of creative talent, of whom Garath McCleary – who’d still be an asset to half of the teams in the league, even at the age of 33 – has had the biggest impact. We also have a supreme poacher in Scott Kashket, so don't be messing around near your own goal. Oh, and Jason McCarthy has joined Joe Jacobson in being able to shoot dangerously straight from corners – so we can now attempt ‘Olimpicos’ from both sides.
Will you have enough to stay up?
We might do. Clearly there’s a long way to go, but we really need to start winning again, like, now, to avoid getting cut adrift. This team is seriously mentally tough and our team spirit is unmatchable, but that alone isn’t going to keep us up. The good performances have returned; it would be ideal if we could go on a bit of a run.
The Twitter @Tom_Hancock_, @chairboyscentrl, @loftforwords
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