Wycombe win without Wild Thing: Why Gareth Ainsworth's Chairboys can beat the drop

Gabriel Sutton by Gabriel Sutton / 02 November 2020, 15:00

Wycombe Wanderers have been written off by most, but EFL pundit Gabriel Sutton makes the case for why Gareth Ainsworth’s side can beat the drop...

Recent upward trends

Over the last four games, Wycombe have averaged 1.42 Expected Goals For (xGF) per game and 1.64 Against (xGA), giving them a Ratio (xGR) of 46.37%, which is better than six teams in the same timeframe.

Plus, this has been against some tough opposition in leaders Reading as well as Norwich and Watford – Premier League clubs last season who are also in the top six – before the 1-0 win over Sheffield Wednesday.

The Royals mustered one off-target shot at goal in the first half while the Canaries had been made to look ordinary before clinching victory in injury time, but it was the performance in the 1-1 draw with Watford that gave Wanderers genuine belief that they belong at this level.

Having picked up their first ever point at this level in that game and subsequently their first win, confidence could grow for Wycombe, who will no doubt take all the insults thrown at them and pin them up on the dressing room wall.

Thompson makes them tick

We all have one thing we regret and, for Notts County, that is releasing Curtis Thompson in 2018.

Just two years down the line, the Magpies are 10th in the National League while Thompson is bossing a Watford midfield that includes a former Premier League title winner in Tom Cleverley.

Thompson is a fantastic character and is incredibly tenacious which means, when others go forward, he is more than capable of covering the space and snuffing out opposition attacks.

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Gareth Ainsworth has been in charge of Wycombe since 2012

Lovely loans

Wycombe have by some distance the lowest budget in the Championship, so the loan market was always likely to be a great opportunity for them to attract a high standard of player without needing to pay a transfer fee.

Sure enough, Josh Knight and Dennis Adeniran have been excellent short-term additions from Leicester and Everton respectively.

Knight is a very committed defender, while Adeniran has been superb at carrying the ball forward from a deep midfield role.

Kashket profits

It could be said, perhaps cheekily, the first seven games that Wycombe’s most creative players were Millwall goalkeeper Bartosz Bialkowski and Norwich defender Grant Hanley!

Both made errors that allowed Scott Kashket to score the Chairboys’ first ever second tier goals.

In fairness to Kashket, though, he forced those errors to some extent with his tenacious hassling and harrying.

The former Leyton Orient striker has already had seven starts this season and, oddly, needs just four more to match his total for the 2019-20 campaign, which was played in a lower division.

Many expected Kashket to play a peripheral role this season for Wycombe as, perhaps, fourth choice behind summer recruit Uche Ikpeazu as well as Alex Samuel and Adebayo Akinfenwa.

The 24-year-old, though, is arguably Wycombe’s most natural finisher and, given that they are likely to have fewer goalscoring opportunities at this level, that might count for more.

Bayo is back

One of Wycombe’s main problems in the first seven games, of which they lost each one, was that they did not have a focal point up top.

Samuel and Kashket are willing runners which make them effective in the press and in transition, but neither have too much of a physical presence, so Ikpeazu and Akinfenwa were missed sorely.

Both made their return from the bench, though, in the 2-1 loss at Norwich, where Wycombe had FIFA’s strongest player and fifth-strongest player on the pitch simultaneously!

Akinfenwa was handed a start against Watford the following Tuesday and facilitated the Chairboys’ direct style far more effectively, using his strength to hold the ball up for Kashket to pick up the pieces and it worked a treat.

Wycombe drew 1-1 with the Hornets but they looked the better side on the night and used that performance as a springboard for the 1-0 win over Sheffield Wednesday the following Saturday.

Bayo out of the starting XI: seven straight defeats. Bayo in the starting XI: four points from two games. Coincidence? I think not.

JJ Okocha-like set plays

Joe Jacobson’s deliveries were pivotal to Wycombe’s promotion from League One last season so, though they were perhaps a touch below par in the first few games, it’s no surprise they have been central once again.

Chairboys fans felt Jacobson was robbed of a goal from a corner against Millwall that could have been a winner with the game level at the time.

In the following home game against Watford, JJ swung another corner into the net but again, that one was disallowed for obstruction.

The Welshman did, though, deliver for crucial headed goals from Anthony Stewart and David Wheeler.

The latter has, perhaps surprisingly, played on the left recently over Fred Onyedinma to give Jacobson more defensive support.

Before this season, the 33-year-old had played just one Championship game for Cardiff in 2005-06, so there were always likely to be question marks over his ability to adapt to the speed and tempo of the second-tier.

Wheeler’s work means Jacobson is not exposed so much one-on-one.

Stewart stars

Stewart, like 13 other members of Wycombe’s first team squad, were playing League Two football as recently as 2017-18 and are having to make a huge step up.

As such, the 28-year-old is something of a throwback: modern defenders in the top two divisions are typically taught to anticipate developments in play, rather than react to them.

Stewart is, perhaps, more of a last ditch defender; the former Crewe man blocks on average 1.4 shots per game and nobody who has started more than four Championship games at centre-back this season block efforts at goal more frequently.

Wycombe will be under the cosh in a lot of games, so it is great for them to have a centre-back who will throw himself in front of shots and defend that goal with staunch determination.

For somebody who is only 5’10”, Stewart is surprisingly efficient in the air and can pose a threat in the opposition’s box as well as his own.

Having scored the goal that took Wycombe to the Championship and the one that earnt them their first second tier point, Stewart has a knack of popping up at important moments.

They’ve got Ainsworth

Gareth Ainsworth was in hospital during the 1-0 win over Sheffield Wednesday, undergoing surgery on a back problem – he is wished a speedy recovery.

It was a shame that neither Ainsworth nor fans could be there to celebrate something as momentous as Wycombe’s first second tier victory.

It is credit to him and the culture he has fostered, though, that the side he built could win in his absence.

Richard Dobson spoke in quite emotional terms post-match about the relationship the two have and the mutual trust between them.

While other teams at this level have money, Wycombe have togetherness – and that can go a long, long way.

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