Wycombe Wanderers 1-1 Northampton Town
Friday, April 19th 2014
A sea of claret descended on High Wycombe last night but the incredible waves that were produced from the Dreams Stand and small sections to its side wasn’t enough to bring home a precious three points for the Cobblers. It wasn’t an afternoon for the footballing purists by any means but when you’ve got a scrap between two of the bottom three teams in the Football League then you don’t go expecting silky football. For both sides it’s just as they were before kick-off and all the hyperbole (myself included) of this being yet another of those “biggest games since 1993” ended up shifting on to the next game at home to Portsmouth on Monday afternoon.
The nerves were kicking in even before leaving Bath on the train and it didn’t help by being held up for an hour in the middle of fields thanks to that old railway classic of signal problems. Still, an away day wouldn’t be the same without an obligatory dash across London and having made up good time by pegging it through Paddington station and up through Marylebone I’d still made it in time to meet up with Mark for his latest honorary Cobbler appearances. There were different kind of nerves in the air from his last Town game (at Wembley) and I think these ones were far worse. There’s just that extra edge to the heart rate when you’re battling relegation, especially out of the Football League completely and a Guinness was in order once we reached Adams Park and made it through the dash for parking spots on the industrial estate.
Here’s where Wycombe have got everything spot on for away fans and why it’s constantly my favourite away game in the calendar when we’re in the same division. A huge marquee was in place right outside the ground containing a bar an ample room for a pre match atmosphere to really get into gear. Next to that were family activities like a bouncy castle and an organised kick about with a mini five a side pitch in place. It sounds very simple but designating an entire outdoor area to visiting fans gives you the warmest of welcomes and immediately makes you feel comfortable and unthreatened. The stewards had smiles on their faces and instead of looking glum and just doing the basics of shepherding in the fans shouted out to us that they hope to see us back in League Two next season – again very, very simple but fantastic in terms of outlook from the powers that be who put them in place. We could learn a lot from them and it makes good business sense to try and encourage away fans to come early and enjoy the build up at the stadium – surely it’s worth considering.
Getting into the ground wasn’t quite so smooth. Having bought tickets in the Dreams End behind the goal you would expect to be able to sit there but a group of Town fans all turned up saying the same thing but found the doors shut dead on 3pm. The stewards said that the end was “sold out” and they were letting no more fans in…cue chaos outside with a huge group charging through the disabled entrance when a steward made the mistake of opening them up. There was nothing for them to do and it led to plenty of our fans standing on the steps in the aisle once they were inside. How on earth a stand can be sold out when there’s a good 30-50 people outside holding tickets to sit in it is beyond me but in the end we were guided to the stand on the side of the pitch having missed the two goals in all the confusion!
We missed Ricky Ravenhill’s high cross being fumbled into the net by Wycombe keeper Matt Ingram that sent the 2,300 away fans wild and we missed the equaliser a few minutes later from Aaron Pierre as he got on the end of a Matt Bloomfield free kick. In between times, Alan Connell had struck just over from a second good Cobblers chance.
When we had finally been seated, Connell had another good effort well saved by Ingram from a free kick before the home side made claims for a penalty at the other end with Andy D’Urso having none of it.
Town started the second half looking more in control of the game but for all their possession weren’t creating anything clear cut in front of goal and were nearly punished when Jo Kuffour, usually prolific against us, headed against the bar. Mid-way through the half, Connell brought the ball down well in the area and flashed a volley over the bar.
A worrying looking injury to Zander Diamond delayed the game and would force ten minutes of stoppage time to further build the tension. And there was room for one last piece of drama. A Wycombe free kick was fired towards goal by Max Kretzschmar and Matt Duke brilliantly clawed it onto the bar. The ball was swept into the net and hearts sunk in the away end until the lifesaving linesman’s flag was raised and the goal was ruled out.
Right or wrong, that could be one of the defining moments of the season – on first viewing from the highlights the first ball in looked as though it could have seen a Wanderers forward offside but there will be questions over the second phase. All I know is that flag could be so, so important come the final outcome of the season!
The full time whistle was accepted graciously from both sides and the relief is that we’re still on terms with Bristol Rovers also now level on points going into their game at Portsmouth on Saturday afternoon.
Overall it was a bitty performance from the Cobblers who are crying out for an end product up front. The fight and determination can’t be doubted but the quality needed to be clinical and to kill teams off just isn’t there. Emile Sinclair hasn’t ever properly lived up to his two goal salvo at Torquay and Alan Connell always seems better suited to build up play then actually finishing off moves. John Marquis is the only one of the front three with a real presence and he just needs to get someone with a goal scoring instinct running off him. With three games to go though, we have what we have.
One of the best moves of the game saw Evan Horwood cross in beautifully to a prime spot in front of goal but it summed up the afternoon when only one claret shirt (Marquis) was anywhere near it. That perhaps says a lot about the type of afternoon it was and how a point was more valuable than going for it and ending up three behind again.
It’s a real toss up at the moment still and these next three games are going to test our heart rates to the limit. The twelfth man yesterday in the away stands undoubtedly kept the side going and were, in the majority, a credit to the club again in its most desperate of times. We all live to fight another day and that was by far option number two of outcomes we would have wanted coming into the day.
I’m pretty sure it’s going to the wire folks!