It’s fair to say that, down the years, trips to Adams Park have not been fruitful ones. Ainsworth’s unique style of football has brought it with it a constant malaise in performance whenever the amber and black make the trip to Buckinghamshire. And on Tuesday night – despite everything we know about this team, how they can surprise you even when you really had written them off, or how they find a way to cause problems to any opposition they face – when some pot shot from 25 yards out flying closer to the corner flag than the bottom corner cannoned off an unsuspecting head and past Dimi Mitov, you once again got that feeling…
Ah sh*t, here we go again…
That record at Wycombe now reads: W1, D1, L10. Historically, it seems no slight on this United side that they didn’t go down there and manage to pick up points – plenty of others haven’t been able to either. Add into that Wycombe’s clear quality (despite recent form they’re very much in the mix for the play offs) and their impressive home record on which they’ve built their campaign, and you’ve got yourself a tough challenge to say the least.
But how much of Tuesday night was just “one of those games”?
The case for the defence starts with the above: Wycombe are a recently relegated side, with a heavily ingrained culture through Ainsworth (however much you might hate it), imposing home form, and a lot of very decent footballers – it’s just a shame we won’t get to see Vokes vs Wes this year, a battle of Euro 2016 goalscorers down in League 1.
So it’s tough from the outset. Then you think the one thing you don’t want to give Wycombe, especially one struggling for a bit of form of late, is an early lead to defend. And then a freak goal like that goes in, and you start to think some other immortal power is working against you.
A very mortal power that seemed to be working against us was the man in the middle, the referee. After turning down a very good penalty shout thanks to Shilow Tracey at 2-0 that would’ve brought us right back into the game had it been converted, he then proceeded to ignore Sam Sherring’s head injury after being punched by Stockdale in the Wycombe goal, allowed them to carry the ball the entire length of the pitch while he was down, and score. Genuinely a bizarre moment, given the justifiable attention and instant stoppages given to head injuries you see week in week out at most levels.
But in all honesty, that third goal wouldn’t have changed the game too much at all. By that point it was clear we didn’t have enough to break them down, and that’s probably where the case for the opposition starts. At 20%, we have the best ‘Failed to score’ ratio outside the top 8 – for our quality, no matter what game we always seem to find a way. But Tuesday it just felt like we hadn’t quite clicked properly. A mixture of fatigue, game conditions, tough opposition, but we just never got going. Tracey and Brophy were often in strange central positions, not making themselves available out wide and stretching the pitch, and May has had a lowkey unimpressive couple of games.
Then let’s talk about defending – that’s 7 conceded in 2 games, and 4 of those in about 20 minutes of game time over Saturday and Tuesday. Strong opposition, yes, but the second goal on Tuesday just has to be defended better, no matter who you’re playing against.
So there are legitimate talking points. And given our very tough run in and the fact we do still need a few points to get over the line, it’s good to be talking about them. But in reality, Wycombe away I chalk down as a loss from the moment the fixtures come out. And if there’s a real positive to take, it’s seeing Tracey, Jones and Joey back in the side – the substitutions we were able to make were just that tiny step up in quality that at some point really will count.
What’s that they say? We go again…
MOTM: Just for seeing him back hassling centre halves, it’s Big Joey.
Soundtrack of the match: The Specials – Ghost Town
United: Mitov; Williams, Jones, Sherring, Dunk; Digby, Worman (Joey); Tracey (Lankester), May, Brophy (Tolaj); Smith.