Wycombe Wanderers have hardly enjoyed the smoothest ride over the past few seasons, without a doubt. As a fan, it has been exciting to watch (on the most part), but nevertheless it has definitely been one hell of a rollercoaster ride.
Since Gareth Ainsworth’s appointment following relegation from League One in the 2011/2012 campaign, things have been far from plain sailing. Mid-table obscurity in 2013, delight in 2014 following a final day victory that saw the Chairboys stay in the football league after being written off by nearly everybody weeks before.
In 2015, heartbreak – a Play-Off final victory; which would have seen the Buckinghamshire outfit promoted back to League One, looked assured. However, a lapse of concentration saw a late Southend equaliser and ulimately a defeat in the shoot-out.
This term looked to be going smoothly, and a strong finish to the season would most likely have seen the Wanderers into the Play-Offs for the second consecutive year. However, injuries and a severe lack of goal scoring threat, combined with most attacking loanees making very little impact saw Wycombe finish in a relatively disappointing 13th position.
Over the course of the season, the fans have witnessed some very strong attacking performances early on in the season, however, the turn of the year was the beginning of the end of this particular campaign.
Yes, defensive performances were always consistently strong, and a cup run which saw the team venture to the hallowed turf of Villa Park was highlight of the season without a doubt, but goals away from home were few and far between. At their own ground, this was even worse. Staggeringly, more goals were scored by England Women at Adams Park against Serbia (seven), than Wycombe managed all of 2016 (six). Clean sheets do not win games, goals do.
So, what went wrong? To some extent, the tactics of the manager may be to blame. Without a doubt, the club should be applauded for allowing Gareth Ainsworth to do his job, and not automatically sack him for having a bad run or two, much like some league clubs. Notts County, for instance, have employed five separate managers over a 14-month period, which can offer no stability of progress within a squad.
The issue may lie in the fact that on most match-days, the Wanderers attack was spearheaded by Paul Hayes and Garry Thompson. Aged 32 and 35 respectively, and both with relatively prolific goal-scoring careers, only managed 11 league goals between them. Although bringing a level of experience and professional behaviour to the team, it hardly takes a genius to work out that the goal-scoring returns are not good enough to be challenging for promotion.
In fact, it may be because both players are relatively similar to each other – too similar one may argue. Both are poachers at heart, and instead of complementing each other’s strengths, there was a distinct lack of chemistry between them.
As a club with a very small squad and a minuscule budget in comparison with some Goliaths in their league, such as Portsmouth, loan players are pivotal. In the 2014/15 campaign, those brought in on a temporary basis played a huge role in getting the team to Wembley. However, this term was a different story entirely.
Defensively, Wycombe signed Jason McCarthy from Southampton, who illustrated his potential as an attacking full-back. However, the strikers did not exactly match this level of performance – two goals between them in 38 combined appearances. This went some way to illustrate that players from Under-21 Premier League teams aren’t necessarily the answer to the problem, with the style of football differing greatly.
The solution is potentially scouring Non-League football. Over the course of the Wanderers’ season, a player that without a doubt stood out was Luke O’Nien. A relative unknown before the season began, signed from Wealdstone, O’Nien was a creative, clever and hard-working central midfielder, who also had defensive capabilities. It was evident towards the end of the season; when O’Nien was injured, that results definitely tailed off as the Buckinghamshire unit were missing a key cog in the Wycombe machine, for pretty much all of the creative play was fed through him.
If Wycombe Wanderers are not able to sign key targets from the football league, due to being massively out-bid by clubs in the division, non- league could be the answer, and indeed the solution to the current goal-scoring drought.
Enter Dayle Southwell, who arrived from Boston United of the Conference North yesterday. The 22-year-old striker had scored 54 goals in two seasons for The Pilgrims, has made appearances for the England C team, and described by Ainsworth as “a physical striker who knows where the goal is and I’m confident his all-round play will benefit the team”.
As a young striker already with an impressive goal-scoring record, if Southwell started up front with the experienced Hayes or Thompson, the strike force would be given something extra and cause issues for the league’s best back-lines. With Ainsworth’s experience on top of this, there is a real opportunity for Southwell’s potentially to truly shine through.
The likes of Jamie Vardy and Conor Washington; who began life in non-league, are now preparing for the Euro 2016 knockout stages, so who knows, a small risk on an unknown player could pay off, and catapult the Chairboys back up to the dizzy heights of League One, in turn demonstrating that money is not everything.
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