Face-To-Face with the Shrews
The 1996-1997 season had been something of a culture shock for followers of the Chairboys. It was the first time the side had been anywhere near relegation in almost ten years. Reality had bitten and the team had been fighting the drop since a poor start to the campaign that saw manager Alan Smith sacked and replaced by John Gregory. He had slowly succeeded in turning results around, particularly at Adams Park. The side had won seven, drawn two and lost two of their home games since Gregory`s appointment in October. However the team had struggled away from home and had won just once in their last ten games on the road. This left the Blues still in trouble at the bottom of Division Two and they faced a crunch battle with relegation rivals Shrewsbury Town at Adams Park on Saturday 29th March 1997. The visitors had been in freefall and were the target for the Wanderers as they looked to climb to safety and complete the great escape.
Gregory made three changes to the starting line-up that had been beaten 1-0 at Gillingham the previous Saturday. Defender Jason Cousins replaced Paul McCarthy at the back but there were two notable additions. The manager had finally had enough of the calamity goalkeeping twins John Cheesewright and Brian Parkin and gave a debut to Martin Taylor, who had arrived on a month`s loan from Derby County. The third change saw striker Miguel De Souza drop to the bench to be replaced by none other than Keith Scott, who arrived on loan from Norwich City. The Shrews included Darren Currie in their starting eleven.
The Chairboys lined-up as follows: (5-3-2)
Jason Kavanagh - Jason Cousins - Terry Evans - Michael Forsyth - Mickey Bell
Dave Carroll - John Cornforth - Michael Simpson
Keith Scott - Mark Stallard
Shrewsbury Town lined-up as follows: (4-4-2) Paul Edwards - Kevin Seabury, David Walton, Peter Whiston, Mark Dempsey - Mickey Brown, Robert Taylor, Paul Evans, Darren Currie - Ian Stevens, Dean Spink
A crowd of 6,562 were in Adams Park to see the exciting return of Scotty and he galvanised the side to a crucial victory. The hosts took the game to their visitors and grabbed the all-important first goal after 14 minutes. A long throw from Jason Cousins near the right corner flag reached the six-yard box where Keith Scott flicked the ball on for Dave Carroll. He was challenged by goalkeeper Paul Edwards and the ball went up in the air before being headed back over the goalkeeper and defender Peter Whiston on the line by Scott to make it 1-0. The hopes of the Wanderers` faithful had been pinned on the return of their hero and in less than a quarter of an hour he had delivered.
The goal spurred Shrewsbury into action and they went on to dominate the next twenty minutes. They went agonisingly close to equalising within three minutes when left-winger Michael Brown cut in from the flank and fired in a shot that came back off Martin Taylor`s left-hand post. Taylor then made the first of what would become a whole catalogue of fabulous saves as Wycombe`s number one. With 20 minutes played Darren Currie beat both Jason Kavanagh and Jason Cousins to run into the area and cross low for Dean Spink who was stood unmarked in front of goal only for his powerful shot to be saved one-handed by Taylor. Midfielder Paul Evans tried his luck from 35 yards but his effort didn`t trouble Taylor. The Blues wrested back the initiative and Edwards had to save from Michael Simpson before Terry Evans headed wide a minute before half-time.
Three minutes into the second half the hosts doubled their lead. Striker Mark Stallard, a recent £100,000 signing from Bradford City, made it three goals in his first four games for the Wanderers. He picked up possession some 25 yards from goal and made a diagonal run towards the penalty area. He raced past defender David Walton and hit a low shot across Edwards who saved with his left foot. The ball looped back to Stallard who controlled it on his chest before hitting a right-footed shot inside the right-hand upright to give the Chairboys a two-goal cushion.
Martin Taylor still had work to do and made another great save halfway through the second half when he tipped Walton`s header over the bar. Within a minute Wycombe had gone up the other end and sealed victory with a third goal. Michael Simpson played a delightful ball with the outside of his right foot behind the Shrews defence which Scott raced onto. He cut inside Walton who made an excellent tackle to stop the big striker. However the ball ran loose for Dave Carroll who coolly slotted the ball around Edwards and into the bottom right-hand corner of the net.
Carroll was replaced by Steve McGavin two minutes later and the Wanderers cruised to victory. Scott was brought down by visiting defender Peter Whiston as he ran in on goal with eleven minutes remaining and was sent-off for a professional foul. Wycombe could have scored more in the final five minutes with Mickey Bell seeing his shot cleared off the line by Kevin Seabury after he had rounded Edwards and Stallard headed just over the bar as the final whistle approached. When it sounded it signalled great cheers at Adams Park as the supporters started to believe that the side could avoid the drop. Safety was achieved in the penultimate game of the season when despite losing 2-1 to Stockport County at Edgeley Park, Shrewsbury Town`s 2-0 defeat at home to Preston North End guaranteed Wycombe`s Division Two status for another season.