The Wild Thing - History
Friday, 18th Dec 2020 15:47 by Clive Whittingham
Only ever going to be one focus for our first trip to Wycombe in more than 16 years tomorrow, as we look back to that game in the wind, and somebody who grew out of that promoted QPR team to become a modern day legend at both clubs.
Wycombe Wanderers 2 Queens Park Rangers 2, Saturday March 20, 2004, Second Division
While close in geographic proximity and sharing an abnormally high number of recent player connections, QPR and Wycombe have only met each other competitively six times, all during Rangers’ dip into League One between 2001 and 2004. Those six meetings through up some absolute modern classics, though, with the Christmas 4-3 at Loftus Road played out by the American High School marching band, the Rob Styles-afflicted 4-1 at Adams Park the year after, and the game we’re going to focus on today which was their last competitive meeting in March 2004.
Rangers and Wanderers were approaching the business end of very different seasons. Ian Holloway’s QPR had lost the play-off final to Cardiff the previous season but added Martin Rowlands, Gareth Ainsworth and Tony Thorpe to an already very accomplished League One outfit and were pushing for automatic promotion. They arrived in this game locked in a struggle at the top with Plymouth, Bristol City and Brighton, but buoyed by an unbeaten run of seven which oncluded Jamie Cureton’s last minute heroics in a 3-2 at home to Port Vale, Lee Camp’s memorable debut in a 4-1 up at Hartlepool, and a 2-0 home victory against Wrexham in the midweek leading up to the game.
Wycombe, meanwhile, were on a downward slide after the highs and FA Cup runs of the Lawrie Sanchez era. Under the unique managerial stylings of Tony Adams, Wanderers were bottom of the league at the start of play, and would finish there after 46 games, but any hopes of this being a banker victory for the R’s were rather scuppered by the unusual weather conditions. Half a dozen Football League matches were lost from that day’s programme as high winds swept across the UK, but a young Martin Atkinson deemed the conditions at Adams Park playable and Wycombe, unsurprisingly, elected to kick downfield with the gale at their backs in the first half.
It was, frankly, a shambles. Wycombe went into the lead just before the half hour when the centre of a QPR defence containing Arthur Gnohere and Clarke ‘the drinking years’ Carlisle was caught at sixes and sevens by a long ball, Gnohere chopped down Nathan Tyson for an obvious penalty, but the ball ran clear for Matt Bloomfield, in testimonial year two of four, to slide in from an acute angle. That quickly became 2-0 as another long ball over the top got caught in the wind freeing Tyson to square to Faulconbridge for an easy second.
Our turn second half though, and with Bristol City suffering a rare loss at Oldham, Ian Holloway moved quickly to try and take advantage of the situation and the conditions with a half time tactical formation switch and the addition of Richard Edghill for Terrell Forbes. Wycombe found they didn’t like being on the end of the breeze half as much as they had having it at their backs and conceded immediately with Kevin Gallen chipping home QPR’s first of the afternoon after a chaotic scramble in the six yard box. Momentum now entirely with the visitors a Martin Rowlands cross got blown over home keeper Steve Williams and into the far corner for the equaliser with 20 minutes still left to play. Holloway slung on Jamie Cureton to hunt for a winner but the score remained deadlocked through to the end.
Rangers continued to stutter thereafter. Four draws and two defeats from seven games allowing the door open for Bristol City. But despite their captain Brian Tinnion’s claims that the Robins’ promotion would “all be over bar the shouting” by Easter and both QPR and Plymouth were “running scared” it was the Hoops and the Greens who secured the top two places, with Rangers beaten Swindon and Sheff Wed in the final two games of the season to seal the deal.
Wycombe: Williams; Senda, Nethercott, Johnson, Vinnicombe; Rogers (McSporran 86), Simpson, Bloomfield, Faulconbridge (Brown 62); Currie (Philo 77), Tyson
Subs not used: Simpemba, Dixon
Goals: Bloomfield 27, Faulconbridge 30
QPR: Camp; Forbes (Edghill 46), Gnohere, Carlisle; Rowlands, Johnson, Bircham (Bean 86), McLeod (Cureton 75); Thorpe, Furlong, Gallen
Subs not used: Day, Palmer
Goals: Gallen 46, Rowlands 68
Head To Head >>> Wycombe Wins 2 >>> Draws 2 >>> QPR Wins 2
2003/04 Wycombe 2 QPR 2 (Gallen, Rowlands)
Gareth Ainsworth >>> Wycombe 2010-present >>> QPR 2003-2010
Gareth Ainsworth had been something of a harbinger of doom for Queens Park Rangers before he signed for them. The former Preston, Lincoln and Port Vale winger had been part of the Wimbledon team that beat the hapless Hoops of 2000/01 5-0 at Selhurst Park, and was then a non-playing member of the Cardiff City squad which narrowly beat Rangers after extra time in the Second Division play-off final at the Millennium Stadium in 2002/03. Once Ian Holloway had moved that summer to bring him to Rangers for a second crack at promotion from that level, he quickly established himself as a local cult hero. He scored twice on his debut as Rangers vanquished Blackpool 5-0 in searing temperatures at Loftus Road on the opening day of the 2003/04 season, and quickly followed that up with a spectacular brace at Rushden and Diamonds on August Bank Holiday Monday.
With Ainsworth added to the right side and Brentford’s Martin Rowlands the left of what was already a very decent team at that level, there was to be no denying Holloway’s men an automatic promotion, second behind Plymouth thanks to a wobble late in the season, but ahead of cocksure Bristol City and their infamous Promotion Calculator thanks to wins in the final two matches of the season. Ainsworth finished with seven goals that year, and flew in at the far post to head in QPR’s first goal back in the Championship in a 1-1 draw with Rotherham on the opening day of 2004/05 as well.
His wholehearted, physical and direct style of play along with a taste for spectacular goals and the rock and roll celebrations that went with them, made him a crowd favourite as QPR began another of their long declines through the latter days of Ian Holloway, Gary Waddock’s brief reign, and then John Gregory’s time at the club. His valiant attempt to run off what turned out to be a spiral fracture of his shin in a crucial Easter Monday 3-2 win at home to relegation rivals Luton towards the end of the 2006/07 season lives long in the memory.
Ainsworth would spend seven years at Loftus Road, seeing off 11 permanent or caretaker managers and twice having a go at the role himself. He saw the club transformed from a bankrupt basket case into a proud promoted team, back into a financial shambles, and then into the club with the richest owners in the world. He scored in John Gregory’s final game, a 5-1 defeat at West Brom, and was still a regular in the side despite an ever growing number of expensive new arrivals through the second half of that season, inspiring an unlikely comeback from 2-0 down in the last minute to secure a 2-2 home draw with Preston with a spectacular goal and assist for Dexter Blackstock both in injury time.
Although Iain Dowie won eight of his first 15 games in charge at the start of the 2008/09 season, disagreements over team selection with owner Flavio Briatore saw him sacked and Ainsworth given a first caretaker spell in charge. One of Dowie’s wins had been a 1-0 upset against Premier League Aston Villa at Villa Park in the League Cup and Ainsworth was in charge for the fourth round game against Man Utd at Old Trafford, losing narrowly 1-0 to a late penalty despite Radek Cerny’s heroics in goal. Ainsworth coached with Paolo Sousa, and then replaced him as caretaker for a second spell later that season when Briatore struck again. He didn’t play at all in 2008/09 but was afforded a couple of send off performances for the club under Jim Magilton in 2009/10, coming off the bench in a 5-0 League Cup win at Exeter, and then fittingly for the final time against his first club Preston in a 4-0 victory at Loftus Road.
He joined Wycombe initially on loan, then permanently in January, and was sent off on his second debut, a 1-0 home win against Millwall. He signed initially for Waddock, with whom he’d worked at QPR, and although the pair were relegated from League One in 2010, they were promoted straight back in 2011 with Ainsworth scoring 11 times, captaining them on the final day of the season, and winning a place in the divisional team of the year. They were, however, relegated again in 2011/12 and when Waddock started the subsequent season back in League Two poorly he was sacked and replaced by Ainsworth permanently.
What has followed has been something of a managerial dynasty. Ainsworth is now in his ninth season in charge at Adams Park, and has led them into the Championship for the first time in the club’s history via the play-off final victory against Oxford at Wembley last season. It hasn’t all been plain sailing – in 2013/14 they were within goal difference of going out of the league altogether, requiring a win on the final day of the season at Torquay to avoid relegation to the Conference. They lost on penalties to Southend in the play-off final the year after that despite leading in stoppage time, and he has since overseen a promotion from League Two in 17/18 in third, and then last year’s unique and unexpected triumph in a league where they operated with one of the lowest budgets.
Ainsworth has forged a reputation of putting together competitive teams on a shoe-string, regularly eking the best out of aging older pros and free transfers, playing the transfer market with extreme cunning and skill, and utilising the loan market well – QPR starlet Ebere Eze caught the eye here earlier in his career. Wycombe are currently attempting to stay in the Championship with the lowest budget seen at this level in the modern era but they couldn’t have anybody better in charge to try and do it, and nor would he have it any other way. The question, increasingly, is whether there’s another spell at Loftus Road still to come.
Others >>> Josh Parker, Wycombe 2019-present, (loan) 2010, QPR 2009-2011 >>> David Wheeler, Wycombe 2019-present, QPR 2017-2019 >>> Giles Phillips, Wycombe 2020-present, (loan) 2019-2020, QPR 2017-2020 >>> Paul Smyth, QPR 2017-present, Wycombe (loan) 2019-2020 >>> Ebere Eze, QPR 2016-2020, Wycombe (loan) 2017-2018 >>> Josh Scowen, QPR 2017-2020, Wycombe 2011-2015 >>> Matt Ingram QPR 2016-2019, Wycombe 2010-2016 >>> Michael Harriman, Wycombe 2015-2019, (loan) 2013, QPR 2011-2016 >>> Marcus Bean, Wycombe 2015-2019, QPR 2002-2006 >>> Hogan Ephraim, Wycombe 2014-2015, QPR 2007-2014 >>> Bruno Andrade, QPR 2010-2015, Wycombe (loan) 2012-2013 >>> Angelo Balanta, QPR 2007-2014, Wycombe (loan) 2008-2009 >>> Dennis Oli, Wycombe 2012-2013, QPR 2000-2004 >>> Gary Waddock, Wycombe (manager) 2009-2012, QPR (manager) 2006, 1991-1992, 1979-1987 >>> Nikki Bull, Wycombe 2010-2012, QPR 1998-2002 >>> Scott Donnelly, Wycombe 2010-2012, QPR 2004-2007 >>> Martin Rowlands, QPR 2003-2012, Wycombe (loan) 2011 >>> Tommy Doherty, QPR 2005-2008, Wycombe (loans) 2006-2008 >>> John Gregory, QPR (manager) 2006-2007, 1981-1985, Wycombe (manager) 1996-1998 >>> David Kerslake, Wycombe 1997-1998, QPR 1984-1989 >>> Ray Wilkins, Wycombe 1996, QPR (manager) 1994-1996, 1989-1994 >>> Barry Silkman, Wycombe 1986-1987, QPR 1980-1981 >>> Mike Keen, Wycombe (manager) 1980-1984, QPR 1959-1969
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Pictures – Action Images
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