Face-To-Face with the Imps
This piece might feel a little like travelling around in a time machine and we`re going back to December 1998 for our latest slice of nostalgia. The Wanderers were struggling in the relegation zone, second bottom of the Second Division. After a dreadful start to the season which had seen just three draws and nine defeats in the opening dozen matches, manager Neil Smillie had finally got his team playing and had lost just two of the following eight games.
The Blues faced fellow strugglers Lincoln City at Adams Park on the last Saturday before Christmas. During the week the side had been knocked out of the F.A. Cup in a second round replay, losing 3-2 at Plymouth Argyle to miss out on a meeting with then-Premier League side Derby County. Recent signing Jermaine McSporran had been cup-tied for the defeat to the Pilgrims having played for Oxford City in the qualifying rounds earlier in the season.
The up-turn in form was partly due to the selection of a settled side under Smillie and he made just one change for the meeting with the Imps. Striker Andy Baird had predictably suffered an injury at Plymouth having played when not fully-fit and McSporran returned as his replacement. Jason Kavanagh and Keith Ryan were also back and took their places on the bench following spells out with injury. Bruce Grobbelaar was the man between the sticks for the visitors.
The Chairboys` line-up was: (5-3-2)
Matt Lawrence - Jason Cousins - Nicky Mohan - Paul McCarthy - Chris Vinnicombe
Dave Carroll - Michael Simpson - Steve Brown
Keith Scott - Jermaine McSporran
Lincoln City starting XI was as follows: (4-4-2)
Jason Barnett - Julian Watts - Kevin Austin - Stuart Bimson
Steve Holmes- Paul Smith - Gary Brabin - Terry Fleming
Tony Battersby - Gavin Gordon
4,731 people decided to avoid Christmas shopping and were instead at Adams Park to witness something of a relegation six-pointer. The hosts made a very nervous start and should have been a goal down after six minutes. Imps` striker Tony Battersby was afforded far too much space and Martin Taylor was relieved to see his shot clip the top of the crossbar before landing in amongst the fans in the Valley End. It was Jermaine McSporran who had the Blues' first sight of goal three minutes later but his attempted chip went just over the bar.
With 19 minutes played the Wanderers broke the deadlock. Matt Lawrence`s left-wing free-kick was only cleared to Michael Simpson and he laid the ball in to Keith Scott who touched it off for Steve Brown to thump a sweetly-struck shot into the right-hand corner of the net with Bruce Grobbelaar beaten all ends up. It was the first goal scored by the Blues in 345 minutes of league football.
The goal relaxed the home side but they struggled to create any chances with the final ball lacking. On the stroke of half-time Wycombe doubled their lead. Taylor`s long clearance was flicked on by Scott and Dave Carroll raced into the space and coolly slotted the ball into the bottom right hand corner of the net to ensure they took a 2-0 lead into the half-time interval.
The opening quarter of the second half saw the Blues try and finish the game with a third goal but despite two goalmouth scrambles the goal wouldn`t come. The game changed on the hour when the Wanderers defence were caught out by a quick throw and Gavin Gordon fired into the net via the left-hand upright from close range to halve the deficit.
Grobbelaar had to be on his toes to deny McSporran three minutes later after he had cut-in from the right flank and the rebound fell kindly for Brown but he couldn`t find the target with his effort. Keith Ryan was introduced into the action with 12 minutes remaining, much to Nicky Mohan`s chagrin.
Less than 90 seconds later the hosts made it 3-1. McSporran picked up possession just inside the visitors half and raced towards goal, jinking past three defenders before firing past Grobbelaar and into the top right corner of the net. It was stunning way to mark his first league goal for the club.
Five minutes later he`d scored again. Simpson`s short-corner routine with Chris Vinnicombe was finished off by McSporran who headed home from within the six-yard box to complete a thoroughly deserved and entertaining 4-1 victory.
It took the Blues up above both Lincoln and Oldham Athletic and into 22nd place in the table. The good run continued with a draw at eventually-promoted Walsall and a win over Chesterfield before the wheels came off in the New Year. Three consecutive defeats were too much for the board and Smillie was sacked as Wycombe manager after less than 11 months in the job.