Say it ain't so Joe!
Wycombe Wanderers were beaten 1-0 by Coventry City in a re-arranged League Two clash at Adams Park on Tuesday night.
By a quirk of fate or sleight of hand I find myself writing about the Chairboys taking on the Sky Blues for the second time this season. It has a nice symmetry at least. As does the post-match feeling of "Ugh!" This time accompanied with chilblains and the inability to feel ones face.
Wycombe Wanderers went into the game having lost just one of their nine league games in 2018. A fellow fan said pre-match that if we'd been offered a run of seven wins, one draw and one defeat on New Year's Eve we'd have taken it just as quickly as that cheap glass of prosecco!
Manager Gareth Ainsworth made three changes to his starting line-up which had been rather embarrassingly beaten 4-2 by Morecambe at Adams Park the previous weekend. Having given the whole squad last week off as a "mid-season break" he decided to give loanee Nathan McGinley the night off, albeit for unknown reasons, and replaced him with "desperate" Dan Scarr. Marcus Bean returned in midfield in preference to Matt Bloomfield whilst Nathan Tyson came in for Craig Mackail-Smith, who joined Bloomfield on the bench. Sido Jombati made a welcome return to the bench following two months out with a knee injury.
There was no sign again of the lesser-spotted Scott Kashket as six substitutes huddled together on the bench for warmth. Ainsworth switched back to his tried and tested 4-4-3 formation, having used 4-4-2 in recent weeks and it looked liked this…
Tafari Moore - Adam El-Abd - Dan Scarr - Joe Jacobson
Marcus Bean - Dominic Gape - Luke O`Nien
Paris Cowan-Hall - Adebayo Akinfenwa - Nathan Tyson
Pre-match there was good news emanating from the Midlands with Steve Evans resigning as manager of promotion rivals Mansfield Town. One of his last acts as Stags boss was to call Coventry City manager Mark Robins "squeaky little Robins" following their 1-1 draw at Field Mill last weekend. Showing all the class is that Mr Evans, as his prospective new employers Peterborough United are about to discover.
Robins was far more bothered about us and made one enforced change to his starting XI: Dominic Hyam replaced the suspended Jordan Willis in the centre of defence in a 4-4-2 formation.
Jack Grimmer - Dominic Hyam - Rod McDonald - Ryan Haynes
Tom Bayliss - Liam Kelly - Michael Doyle - Jordan Shipley
Jonson Clarke-Harris - Marc McNulty
The Beast from the East had arrived in town as if it was the (dawn of a) new era yet it didn't deter 4,087 hardy souls from venturing into the bitterest of colds like Siberian warriors as they watched their respective teams do battle for glory. Alas this wasn't much of a battle, nor much of a footballing contest either, it wasn't much of anything.
As the cold began to seep into the bones of those shivering on the terraces and in the seats, all that was wanted and needed was a bit of entertainment. Some excitement to distract us from the absurdity of our chosen existence for 90 minutes. We could have done with the dear old late Cyrille Regis out there, finding the top corner as he did memorably at Old Trafford and Brisbane Road for both our clubs all those years ago. Rest In Peace brother.
Of course the current players had to deal with the ridiculous conditions too and it was surprising to see so many of them eschewing the modern need for gloves. Caps duly doffed to them. The pitch was of course comforted by the under-soil heating, which gave it a moist white blanket and with the help of the bright lights made it appear slippery underfoot. As the mercury tumbled it seemed to get worse, which made passing football all the more tricky.
The opening quarter of an hour saw the Sky Blues enjoy a couple of spells of neat passing football but it came to nothing and the rest of a dull first-half saw the home side have the better of what attacking play there was. Sadly the shot on target tally reached a solitary one, provided in the 16th minute when midfielder Luke O'Nien hit a low shot from inside the box which wasn't too hot to handle for visiting goalkeeper Lee Burge, who saved comfortably.
One of the recurring sights of the opening 45 minutes was of desperate Dan Scarr giving the ball the kind of treatment you would expect had he come home to find it in bed with his missus. That ball certainly wasn't his friend and it knew it!
Scarr did well to block a shot from Jonson Clarke-Harris after 27 minutes and the double-barrelled loan striker then hit a free-kick into the wall for the visitors shortly afterwards.
There was an "ooh" when the visitors midfield bulldog Michael Doyle almost headed winger Nathan Tyson's left-wing cross into his own net shortly before the break. That was the last of the meagre fare on offer as the two sides went in for their half-time oranges.
Brendan Malone was returning to the refereeing rat race for the first time in eleven months having lasted just 35 minutes of the League One tussle between Gillingham and Peterborough United in March 2017. Some people would love to last that long! It was quite a night to make his comeback and he decided to hand out his first yellow card to winger Paris Cowan-Hall for blocking Burge's goal-kick four minutes into the second half.
Four minutes later came the best moment of the game for the hosts. Goalkeeper Scott Brown launched the ball forward as per page 1 of the play-book and striker Adebayo Akinfenwa was in the vicinity to strike fear into the souls of the Coventry rearguard. He tried to bring the ball under control but it really wasn't having it and it bounced into the path of Tyson just inside the box. He shot low straight at Burge, who allowed to slip through his gloves, the ball briefly spinning towards goal before the glovesman got back to hug it like a dear old friend.
Both managers made changes with Paris Cowan-Hall hooked by Gareth Ainsworth having spent most of the game sulking like a petulant teenager who had been sent out there for detention. His replacement Nick Freeman made little impact as the lonely crowd longed for something hot and stiff inside them.
Wanderers were awarded a free-kick on the left with 13 minutes remaining. A fan shouted "sock it to 'em JJ" as he stood over the set-piece. The ball was eventually hooked about ten feet wide of the goal by Scarr to leave the aforementioned fan with a blank expression. (Had he been real of course and not just a figment of this writer's imagination as he attempts to bring some colour to an otherwise deary account of a freezing evening spent at the end of an industrial estate! I know it doesn't make it right but you have to find something to enjoy yourself.)
You know the stereotype: "this game has got 0-0 written all over it." And as soon as you think it, you know a mistake is coming. Lo and behold it came after 81 minutes when the Sky Blues launched a counter attack which was aided and abetted by Joe Jacobson, "one of the best left-backs in the division."
Whether it was a brain or feet malfunction it allowed the 18-year-old Tom Bayliss to race down the right flank and into the box where he was unceremoniously stopped in his tracks by the clumsiest of challenges from Adam El-Abd. Mr Malone had his pointing finger at the ready and aimed it at the spot.
McNulty, who dived outrageously to win and score a penalty in the reverse fixture before Christmas, stood up and Brown could do nothing to prevent him from finding the bottom right-hand corner of the net from the spot. He was booked for his celebrations as Wycombe faced down the barrel of back-to-back defeats for the first time this season.
Ainsworth might have shouted "it's up to you" as he threw Craig Mackail-Smith and Matt Bloomfield into the action in a desperate attempt to salvage a point. Alas they were unable to help the Wanderers to break down the door and they slumped to successive home defeats.
The away fans celebrated a much-needed victory singing on their bicycles as they set-off on their return to their concrete jungle with play-off hopes rekindled in their hearts.
Meanwhile Gareth Ainsworth, who stuck with his Man at C&A look on the touchline despite the cold, commented afterwards that his side had defended resolutely.
It is certainly true that there was no repeat of the defensive clowning which had lead to four splats of custard pies in the faces of our defenders from Morecambe last time out, but it's also true that Coventry City mustered a grand total of one shot on target during the 90 minutes.
You're wondering now whether he said "we go again" again. Instead he said "game on" - perhaps in homage to the 90's sitcom starring Samantha Janus. It might have been better for everyone if this game had been off.
Do you remember the good old days before the ghost town?
Brown 6 - He had next to nothing to do and got nowhere near McNulty's penalty.
Moore 6 - Has been recently accused of having had "too much, too young" but this was a composed display from the youngster.
El-Abd 5 - Performed the rugged central-defensive role in manly fashion but should have been shown a clumsy card for the penalty.
Scarr 4 - He helped to keep Clarke-Harris and McNulty quiet but treated the ball as if it was a bomb.
Jacobson 3 - Is he carrying an injury? It didn't look like it and looking for excuses just illustrates his drop in form
Bean 6* - Did his job extremely well, breaking up play, winning possession and finding his team-mates. Best of the bunch.
Gape 5 - Looked off the pace and made little impact on the contest.
O`Nien 6 - Tried to make things happen but grew increasingly frustrated as little came off for him.
Paris Cowan-Hall 3 - Might as well not have been on the pitch and clearly didn't want to be.
Akinfenwa 5 - Struggled to have his usual impact on the game with precious little service to work with.
Tyson 5 - Appeared to be the one player struggling most with the conditions but came closest to scoring.
Freeman 4 - Switched wings in an attempt to get into the game but failed to do so.
Bloomfield and Mackail-Smith - N/A
Best player on the pitch by some distance was Coventry City's right-back Jack Grimmer.
Next up: Crawley Town v Wycombe Wanderers / Saturday 3rd March 2018 / Kick Off 3pm / Broadfield Stadium.