Blues and Cobblers end all square
Wycombe Wanderers 1-1 Northampton Town (Pierre 18) (Ingram OG 12)
In a crunch relegation six pointer at Adams Park, Aaron Pierre's superb 18th minute header cancelled out Matt Ingram's calamity 12th minute own goal to earn the Chairboys a share of the spoils.
The scene was set on Good Friday for one of the biggest fixtures Wanderers have faced since they entered the Football League in 1992. Over 7,000 turned up to see the game and both sets of players looked visibly nervous amidst an early cauldron of an atmosphere.
Gareth Ainsworth elected to start Matt McClure with Jo Kuffour up front as Steven Craig was ruled out through injury, and rushed back Paris Cowan-Hall on the right wing with Nick Arnold dropped to the bench. Matt Bloomfield started on the left in place of Kretzschmar who was also benched. Marvin McCoy was also ruled out through injury and Danny Rowe deputised at right back with Leon Johnson returning at centre back alongside loanee Pierre. It is indicative of a line up that rarely stays settled; indeed it changes like the wind!
Chris Wilder's Northampton started the game by far the brighter and the powerful Cobblers looked an early threat from set pieces, but the opening ten minutes passed without meaningful incident.
Disaster struck in the 12th minute for Matt Ingram as a skied Ricky Ravenhill cross was inexcusably dropped and fumbled into his own net by the young goalkeeper. Emile Sinclair had made a darting run towards the keeper but there really was no excuse not to catch it under no contact and he couldn't retrieve the loose ball before it crossed the line. It sent the 2,129 Cobblers fans into raptures and gave the visitors a sudden surge in confidence.
If Wycombe had started shakily, the nerves had intensified now, and Alan Connell was unlucky when he turned and rifled a shot narrowly over the crossbar just two minutes later. Fortune almost struck back immediately after but a clearance hit Kuffour and cannoned straight into the arms of Northampton goalkeeper Matt Duke.
The equaliser arrived in the 18th minute as Pierre sent a towering header into the far corner from Bloomfield's free kick, to an enormous roar of relief from a jittery home crowd.
The goal temporarily settled the nerves and the game entered a lull before Pierre won another header from a Bloomfield set piece which this time sailed over the bar. Cowan-Hall was giving Wycombe some genuine width this afternoon but a recurrence of his previous injury meant he left the field after half an hour and was replaced by Dean Morgan.
Connell then hit a 20 yard free kick which Ingram pushed wide for a corner. John Marquis was booked by Andy D'Urso for a high boot on Josh Scowen from the resulting corner and was slightly fortunate to escape a second booking for some less than subtle dissent, gesturing and another silly barge into Wood minutes later.
Bloomfield's set piece delivery was causing the Cobblers serious angst by now and McClure's downward header was wide of the near post as half time approached. Stuart Lewis then thundered into the box and went down but penalty appeals were waved away as D'Urso blew for half time.
The second half again started with the visiting side on the front foot, and Wycombe found themselves camped in their own half for the first five minutes. On their first attack the Chairboys squandered a vital chance to take the lead. Wood`s cross found Morgan who sent a bullet header which came crashing back off the crossbar.
The game then entered a particularly scrappy stage where the Cobblers fans repeatedly berated referee D'Urso for a series of handball appeals which were rightfully ignored. Goalscorer Pierre limped off in painful fashion and was replaced by Anthony Stewart on the hour mark. McClure then nipped in front of his marker at the near post but his header sailed narrowly over the bar.
Connell and Sinclair were substituted soon after and Chris Hackett and Brendan Dickenson entered the battlefield. It wasn`t long before Zander Diamond was laid flat out for some time and he was carried off on a stretcher to be replaced by batman impressionist Mathias Doumbe. The stop start nature of the game was again evident as Leon Johnson took a knock before McClure was correctly booked for a trip as the game neared stoppage time.
As the fourth official signalled ten minutes of added time Kretzschmar replaced the woefully ineffective Kuffour and nerves began to reach fever pitch in the stands. Wycombe then enjoyed their best spell of the game and the 4,875 home supporters in the crowd of 7,004 really urged their team on. McClure got the right side of the defender but couldn't get his shot away under pressure from the defender. If the striker had gone down and not stumbled over in instalments, D'Urso would have had a big decision to make.
The final chance arrived in the 98th minute as the Chairboys were awarded a free kick on the edge of the box. The crowd were going barmy in anticipation and the scene was set. Kretzschmar bent it towards the top corner and Duke superbly tipped the ball on to the bar. In the ensuing chaos, Johnson scuffed the ball towards the net and Morgan slotted home from close range. The crowd went wild, but the linesman's flag was up, the celebrations were cut short and the game was to end all square at 1-1.
Replays have since suggested that Morgan was clearly onside when Johnson played the ball, but Johnson was in a marginally offside position when Kretzschmar struck the free kick.
The late drama and tension was almost unbearable but the Blues need to put this one to bed now and move on to the next cup final at Fleetwood Town on Easter Monday!
Ratings: Ingram (5), Rowe (6), Johnson (6), Pierre (7) (Stewart 61' (6)), Wood (6), Cowan-Hall (5) (Morgan 31', (7)), Scowen (6), Lewis (7), Bloomfield (8*), McClure (5), Kuffour (4) (Kretzschmar 90' (N/A)).
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