After the two recent mini-series - four against teams around the top (which we lost, one point), and three against teams around the bottom (which we won, taking seven points) – yesterday felt like the first game of the final phase of the season, during which the quality of opposition would be more varied – and for which you have in all honesty say we have precious little to play for. It would begin with a toughie, with Wycombe presumably desperate for the points, especially having failed last time out to take advantage of the slips by Derby and Bolton to close the gap on a play-off spot, but missing some key players. Perhaps it was all set up for a game which left nobody feeling elated, with a point apiece probably right in that neither side deserved to win but both could have done.
With Ness having joined Aneke and Blackett-Taylor in the ‘season effectively over due to injury’ camp, and Thomas off on international duty, we knew the team would be pretty much a case of going with what we have, with perhaps a little rotation around the edges. In the event Sessegnon came in for Thomas in an otherwise unchanged team, with Leaburn deemed fit enough to start. Harness replaced Wollacott as substitute keeper and Mitchell took the defensive cover spot, with Henry and Kilkenny for midfield and Bonne and Kanu up front. They needn’t have bothered as in the end unusually we made no substitutions.
The first 10 minutes were all Wycombe as we began tentatively and were very close to being behind in the first minute as a decent but fairly routine cross from their left eluded our defenders to fall nicely for their guy, only for him to plant the header just wide with Maynard-Brewer a spectator. But after that spell we progressively took control, finding space down both flanks, and took the lead. We had just fluffed a very good chance of our own as Campbell evaded his guy on the left and reached the byline inside the box. He pulled it back to an incoming Morgan, but he failed to control the ball or shoot first time and bundled the ball harmlessly wide. No matter, through luck or judgement Morgan was involved in the goal which followed. On the right side Rak-Sakyi fed it on to him. The first attempted cross was blocked but it rebounded to him. What followed was either a drilled, low cross to the far post or a midirected shot which would have gone for a throw-in. Either way Leaburn was around the back stick to turn it into the net.
The rest of the first half was reasonable enough, although on actual chances Wycombe probably shaded it, with some head tennis inside our box leading to an overhead kick which Maynard-Brewer saved and a free kick curled just over the bar, while we collected a couple of yellows (Clare and Hector). We continued to threaten from wide positions, but didn’t force their keeper into action.
At the break I felt that Wycombe had been pretty ordinary and there was general agreement that a second for us would probably be sufficient to take the points – but as Brownie was warning on CATV would probably be necessary, given that whatever the opposition clean sheets for us are hard to come by.
Instead of going out determined to score that second we seemed to adopt a more cautious approach. And for a long spell the game just drifted in a low-key fashion, niggling fouls breaking up play (with Leaburn on the end of some hefty challenges but managing to pick up a yellow for a reaction). Early on Rak-Sakyi got on the end of a Morgan long ball and was able to cut inside, only for his shot to be turned away. Similar moments were seen at the other end, with a Wycombe free kick finding a guy in space at the far post only for him to shoot over, while Inniss managed to get a block on a goalbound effort.
However, with around 10 minutes of normal time it was all-square. We thought we had got away with it as their guy turned in our box and his shot looked destined for inside the far post, only for Maynard-Brewer to stretch and get enough on it to turn it around for the corner. He needn’t have bothered as from that one their defender timed his run well and powered a header unchallenged into the net. From our point of view, Clare had been marking the guy and got completely turned around and left for dead, no other defender attacked the ball, Morgan was on the post but moved inside and ended up wafting his right leg vainly at the ball as it went past him. Shoddy defending.
Still as it proved almost 20 minutes left to play, but neither side was able to add to the score. After Morgan found Leaburn (who lasted the full game, despite a very poor late challenged from a guy with his feet off the ground), he set up Fraser, who should have done better from around the edge of the area than the curled effort over the bar. Shortly after, Leaburn made it first to a Rak-Sakyi cross only to glance the header just wide. But Wycombe had moments too, Maynard-Brewer saving again from a shot sent in from around the edge of the area.
If we want some positives we can now point to four games unbeaten, for what it’s worth, and having at least matched a promotion-chasing team, albeit a depleted one. We were ahead for most of the game and might well have won with a second to finish things off. For their part Wycombe might see it as a point won, given their missing players, perhaps one which will prove valuable as they are still only three points off a play-off place with eight to play.
So basically the game and the result altered nothing for either team. But there is a material issue going on as Holden tries to get clues for next season. He gave Kanu 45 minutes on his own up front against Cambridge and yesterday the focus was on Morgan. In his interview aired on CATV before the game he indicated that Holden had said he would be given a run of games, which seems like a double-edged sword: let’s see if a run in the side can lead to greater consistency, or if it doesn’t the implications for next season would seem clear. In the interview Morgan seemed to agree with the suggestion that knowing he would play a few might help him to relax and show his best. Personally I want to hear players welcoming pressure and delivering their best under pressure.