Long ball, ugly, boring: call it what you like, it won’t bother Wycombe fans.
So-called anti-football has been the subject of derision across the ages, but Wimbledon, Cambridge, Lincoln and Wycombe (amongst others) won’t mind. They’ve all enjoyed success since the eighties with a unique brand of football. John Beck managed Cambridge and Lincoln, with current Wycombe boss Gareth Ainsworth learning some of his trade from the grandmaster of what is commonly termed ‘s**thousery’.
Make no mistake though, this Wycombe team are not a replica of Beck’s thuggish hoof merchants. Yes, they deliver a direct style, but they’re very good at other elements of the game too, the aspects that fans genuinely love to see. They’re together as a unit, which can be worth a goal a game, and with the greatest of respect, they have good players. Sure, it is ‘little Wycombe’, and of course, some will criticise the vote to end the season and then play on, but they weren’t the only ones. The thing is, Wycombe are an easy target. They came out of the GMVC and the fans of so-called established clubs just can’t bear to see them climbing the divisions doing what they do.
Let’s hand some respect out here though; they stuck by Ainsworth after a couple of tough years in League Two and in return, he stuck by them when clubs such as QPR and Lincoln allegedly expressed interest. He might be overlooked for bigger jobs due to the reputation he has tactically, but anyone choosing to do so is missing out on a canny manager. Yes, they go direct, but they also know how to play a bit of football. They get the best out of players who seemingly have no right to be performing in the third tier, let alone the second, and few will offer the words of praise that they’re due.
I find it odd that last night, they are the ‘anti-football’ side, the enemies of the EFL, whilst their opponents were widely favoured by the neutral. Fleetwood are managed by a man who once stubbed a cigar out in a player’s eye, who allegedly assaulted another manager and their centre forward is Ched Evans, innocent of a crime but not of grubby behaviour. Fleetwood are bankrolled beyond their means by a man who has held their supporters to ransom in a General Election, they have little EFL history and yet somehow, they were the side escaping the criticism. On the other hand, Wycombe have been promoted from the non-league, long-since established themselves as an EFL member and have been run sensibly and economically in doing so. How on earth are they the side facing criticism? Because they like to get forward quickly? Madness.
Unless Joey Barton finds a way to overturn a deficit that hasn’t been overturned in two decades, Wycombe will be heading to Wembley. It is harsh on their supporters that they can’t travel to see it, especially as we’ve always found Wycombe a pleasant place to visit. Okay, getting out of the estate can be a pain, but their staff and stewards are great, their ground has an atmosphere and it is easy on the eye with the Chilterns nestling behind. Their fans deserve the chance to watch their team on the biggest stage of all, whereas both Oxford and Portsmouth have experienced that in recent seasons.
I’ll tell you this as well; neither side from the other play-off will want to come up against Wycombe. They don’t have any real patterns of play, in fact, they don’t seem to have their own unique approach at all. Instead, they tailor their game to that of their opposition and over a 46 game season, that might not have been enough for a top-six finish. It might have been, nobody knows, but circumstance dictates that over 30-odd games, it was enough. However, when you start to talk about one-off fixtures, Wycombe’s style and approach is perfect. They rise to occasions, the unsettle and are aggressive. They are tactically aware and play as one solid unit. That all-for-one attitude saw a direct Northampton side triumph in League Two and I wouldn’t be at all surprised if the same happens in League One.
Also, you have to remember that the fan element has been taken out of any possible final (if they get there). Maybe Portsmouth would have outnumbered them two or three to one; Oxford might have taken more too. That would have created an atmosphere that could have had a bearing on the outcome of the game. Instead, Wembley will be eerie and silent, which I think plays firmly into the hands of sides like Northampton and Wycombe, who look to break up play, tackle, harass and move through the thirds very quickly. The opposition won’t have a wall of noise to fall back on, if that were to be an advantage.
They might have been outsiders for the Championship 24 hours ago, but last night demonstrated that in this unusual season, anything can happen and there would be no surprise here if Wycombe Wanderers weren’t lining up against the likes of Derby, Forest and Norwich next season. With Rob Couhig’s ownership confirmed and money potentially available, who knows how far they might get in upsetting some of the big boys.