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For Whom The Bell Tolls

Wycombe Wanderers boss Gareth Ainsworth walked towards the 681 Chairboys (and girls) behind the goal at Fratton Park after the final whistle and wiped his brow in a show of relief. He might well have done so after watching his side snatch a dramatic equaliser seconds before referee Darren Drysdale blew his final whistle as they claimed a point with a 2-2 draw against Portsmouth.

It was a fateful evening because had Leon Johnson not been forced to hobble off through injury with nine minutes of normal time remaining, then Anthony Stewart might not have been on the pitch to head home the equaliser.

Of course, had the red card he received in last weekend's 2-0 defeat at Dagenham and Redbridge not been rescinded, he would not have even been named as a substitute in the first place.

The fact that he was named as a substitute will be bemusing for some as Ainsworth continued his rotation policy with five more changes to the starting line-up. It is rotation with the speed of Superman walking through a revolving door!

Out went Josh Scowen with a slight groin strain whilst defender Charles Dunne, midfielder Max Kretzschmar and striker Steven Craig joined Stewart on the bench.

The big news was the man who came back in from the cold, the much-championed Matt Spring, who was recalled and parachuted straight into the starting line-up. It's indicative of a selection policy that is causing the multiple scratching of heads.

Defenders Gary Doherty and Sam Wood, midfielder Billy Knott and striker Dean Morgan were also recalled to the side with the Chairboys lining-up as follows:

Matt Ingram

Marvin McCoy - Gary Doherty - Leon Johnson - Sam Wood

Stuart Lewis - Matt Spring - Billy Knott

Paris Cowan-Hall

Matt McClure - Dean Morgan

Portsmouth meanwhile lined-up in a 4-5-1 formation:

Trevor Carson

Joe Devera - Danny East - Sonny Bradley - Dan Potts

Andy Barcham - Jed Wallace - Johnny Ertl - Shaun Cooper - Ricky Holmes

Ryan Bird

Wycombe Wanderers came out seemingly expecting to weather an early storm from the hosts but they didn't have to ride the lightning this time. On the contrary Portsmouth posed about as much threat as an asthmatic ant trying to blow out one feeble candle on a birthday cake.

Leon Johnson received a booking for a foul on Johnny Ertl within three minutes and it was followed by another for Matt Spring, which at least to the eye of this beholder, appeared to be for dissent rather than a lazy obstruction.

Matt Ingram was a virtual spectator in the first 45 minutes and his only save came after seven minutes when he pushed Ricky Holmes scuffed effort around the post.

With just one player in attack, the woefully ineffectual Ryan Bird, the hosts' tactics saw them concede both territory and possession and the opening quarter of an hour was a bit like watching two bald men fighting over a comb.

Once the visitors realised they had nothing to fear and rather than fighting fire with fire, a medium-powered storage heater would probably be enough even on such a cold evening as this, they started to apply some pressure and it didn't take long to bear fruit with the opening goal coming in the 22nd minute.

The hosts failed to clear Spring's free-kick into the box and Matt McClure turned to fire a left-footed shot across home goalkeeper Trevor Carson and into the far corner of the net.

There was a delay of almost eight minutes whilst Danny East received treatment after landing awkwardly on his neck following an aerial challenge with Morgan and he was subsequently taken to hospital.

It didn't help Pompey's cause, who by now were plumbing the depths of ineptitude. The biggest donkey was Johnny Ertl, who ought to have been wearing clown shoes given his inability to pass to a team-mate.

He was ably assisted by right-back Joe Devera and centre-half Sonny Bradley, with McClure tormenting the latter throughout the contest and twice leaving him on his backside, just as he had in last season's 2-1 home win over Aldershot Town.

The Chairboys ought to have taken advantage of their dominance but were denied by Carson, who pushed McClure's close-range header around the post following another Spring free-kick.

McClure was again foiled moments later when he turned Bradley in the box but his shot was blocked by defender Bondz N'Gala's last ditch challenge.

Home midfielder Jed Wallace might have received a stronger punishment than the yellow card he was shown for a dreadful challenge on Dean Morgan and the first half ended with eight minutes of injury-time during which Billy Knott was also booked.

The home fans amongst the 14,942 crowd were quiet and disgruntled. Portsmouth caretaker boss Andy Awford had to shake things up at the break and he replaced Wallace with experienced striker David Connolly.

It made all the difference as the hosts switched to a 4-4-2 formation and stopped giving the Chairboys the time and space to knock the ball around and play.

It took ten minutes or so for the pressure to increase, as slowly but surely the visitors were pushed back into the final third and appeared more than happy to do so, conceding territory and possession, and with it, the momentum.

Paris Cowan-Hall wasted a great chance when he showed the first touch of a brick wall to allow Dan Potts to intercept and after that it was a backs-to-the-wall job as an angled shot from Holmes was parried by Ingram before the young goalkeeper held onto Connolly's near-post effort.

Andy Barcham seized upon a loose pass in his own half before speeding like a whippet towards goal but Doherty made a fantastic goal-saving challenge to prevent him from shooting at Ingram. There was another attack from the visitors which ended with Spring hitting a 25-yard daisy-cutter which Carson got down well to save.

There was a frantic two-minute spell with the ball on the edge of the Wycombe penalty area during which possession was won and lost at an alarming rate and more resembled a school playground kickabout where everyone runs around after the ball with a youthful disregard to positioning!

The pressure soon became unrelenting and the hosts were awarded a penalty in the 69th minute when Sam Wood tripped Connolly inside the box. Connolly picked himself only for Ingram to dive to his right and make his first penalty save in a Wanderers shirt.

Sadly there was no escape as within two minutes Ingram's good work was undone when Connolly and Holmes combined for Barcham to lash a right-footed drive into the roof of the net, giving Ingram no chance!

The goal finally brought some respite for the visitors who were almost gifted a goal when Carson and Potts indulged in a spot of 'after you Claude,' but McClure lost his footing at the vital moment and the chance was gone.

Awford has already made one decisive substitution and he repeated the trick in the 78th minute when Patrick Agyemang replaced Ertl. Ainsworth was forced into his first change shortly afterwards with Johnson hobbling off with the gait of an 80-year-old and Stewart being thrust into the action.

Agyemang soon made his considerable presence felt, yet not considerable enough to be marked at a Holmes free-kick as he made the most of a free header at the near post and directed it into the net with his bonce!

The goal came with just six minutes remaining but on the balance of play in the second half, the hosts were well worthy of their lead.

The away fans were taken to the frayed ends of sanity when Morgan made no pretence of a challenge when Carson came racing out to clear another long ball downfield from an overworked Wanderers defence. He was soon replaced by Jo Kuffour, with Max Kretzschmar also coming on for Knott.

If the Pompey substitutions worked a treat then so did the Chairboys' as with four minutes of injury-time already played, Kretzschmar delivered a right-wing corner which fellow sub Stewart met with a header into the right-hand corner of the net from six yards. Ingram came racing up from his goal to celebrate with his team-mates and supporters alike as the visitors snatched an unlikely point at the death.

It was a dramatic finish to an entertaining game and Wycombe played their full part in it. A last gasp equaliser will always make it feel like a win!

Sadly the second half was an example of how not to play the game and they most certainly made the most of their 'get out of jail free card.' The goal papers over the cracks of a team short of confidence, consistency and a clear strategy. The likelihood of a relegation battle looms ever larger.

Whilst the point takes the side up two places to 14th in the table, the sad but true fact is the Blues have now stretched their winless run in League Two to seven games, with just three points collected from the last 21 available.

Ainsworth's constant changing of both personnel and formations isn't helping, there is no consistency, with yet another positive half of football followed by a negative one.

The changes solved nothing either, Matt Spring neither excelled nor disappointed on his return. Dean Morgan promised much in the first half and delivered nothing in the second half except his usual dose of attitude, and he wasn't alone.

Saturday's F.A. Cup second round clash with Preston North End is likely to see yet another raft of changes with Johnson likely to miss out and Scowen likely to return. No wonder performances are so inconsistent!

It could, no, should, be argued that Wycombe Wanderers haven't faced a bigger game than Saturday's tie against the Lilywhites in many a year. A win and a handsome third round draw with a Premier League Goliath and this David will have plenty of ammo in his slingshot!

Ratings: Ingram 7, McCoy 6, Doherty 8*, Johnson 7 (Stewart N/A), Wood 5, Lewis 6, Spring 6, Knott 6 (Kretzschmar N/A), Cowan-Hall 5, Morgan 5 (Kuffour N/A), McClure 7

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The Journalist

Writer: Benny Mail feedback, articles or suggestions

Date:Thursday December 5 2013

Time: 2:26AM


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