After a Christmas period that yielded a solitary point from two home games, City began 2013 displaying the same imperious away form as they ended 2012 to emerge victorious against a somewhat physical Wycombe side.
With Liam Sercombe sidelined, Jamie Cureton returned to the starting line-up in the only change, with Tom Doherty taking Cureton’s place on the bench, therefore the City side was: Krysiak in goal, a back four of Tully, Woodman, Baldwin and Coles; a midfield trio of Oakley, Bennett and Keohane, with Gow supporting Cureton and O’Flynn up front. The bench comprised Evans, Moore-Taylor, Amankwaah, Dawson, Doherty, Davies and Reid.
After a cagey opening that saw both sides produce powder-puff efforts, the powder puff soon gave way to powder keg. The first incident of note occurred when Steve Tully, seemingly engaged in a two-way battle with Joel Grant that saw neither player particularly interested in the ball, was called for a foul on Grant and somewhat bizarrely also carded. From the resulting free kick Krysiak caught bravely, only to be poleaxed by a horrible challenge from the giant Wycombe centre back, Stewart. To be fair, the ref will not have seen it from his angle, but clearly the intent was not to get the ball but to knock Krysiak over, a challenge that had it been Wasps playing rather than Wycombe would have resulted in a sin-bin. Krysiak was laid out as his solar plexus took a while to recover.
There now seemed to be a real climate of spite in the air as City tried to get the ball down and play only to find Wycombe’s players intent more on causing harm and unsettling them through physical play, stray little elbows flying in from time to time, going to ground off the ball in forlorn attempts to get City players booked or sent off. Finally twice within the space of little more than a minute the referee, Mr Davies, flourished his yellow card in the direction of Wycombe players, although again both challenges must have had him considering reaching for his other pocket instead. First Kuffour went in with his feet for a ball that was clearly at heading height, a yellow probably the right decision but you’ve seen reds produced for those challenges, and then Wycombe’s captain, Stuart Lewis, went through Alan Gow with a shocking challenge that again many referees might have deemed worthy of an early bath. They seemed to be actively encouraged by manager Gareth Ainsworth, who was very animated on the sidelines, and after another altercation involving Sam Wood right in front of the City bench things were in danger of seriously boiling over.
Without much Football to report by this point – City were industrious without penetrating while Wycombe were kicking people or going down like they’d been shot – it was no surprise that a red card was (correctly) produced in the 40th minute, but the surprise was that it was a player in red and white who was trudging off. As Cureton tried to get onto a through ball he was blocked off by Stewart, and decided to kick out at the big defender. Right in front of the linesman. The referee sadly was left with a no-brainer to send the veteran striker off, meaning he misses the next three matches.
The second half was thankfully a lot calmer as Wycombe tried to make their extra man count while City soaked up the pressure and sought to eke out chances of their own. There was a golden opportunity for Wycombe to take the lead on 53 minutes as Joel Grant was upended by Pat Baldwin in the box. Given the time of the match and the end the penalty was given brought back memories of last season, and lo and behold Grant’s penalty was as bad as Bauza’s! Krysiak had to adjust himself to make the save, and from the rebound the ball was bundled home only to be ruled out for an infringement.
Having been dealt a reprieve City continued to seek a winner of their own, sensing that even a man down they were probably the superior side, Alan Gow running things from the edge of the box albeit without being able to carve an opening for a shot or to play a team-mate in. At the other end Wycombe were trying their luck mainly from crosses only to find Baldwin and Coles in imperious form.
It seemed that there would be no way through for either side, but on 81 minutes City finally got in behind the Wycombe defence and scored. Alan Gow – who else? – delicately chipped the ball for O’Flynn to run onto, and from a tight angle he hit a fierce shot that squirmed free from goalkeeper Archer’s grasp. As the ball rolled along a yard out from the goal line youngster Kortney Hause beat out Jimmy Keohane to reach the ball, but was powerless to do anything other than nudge it over the line to send the City faithful delirious.
Shaken by conceding a goal with probably City’s first meaningful chance of the game, Wycombe immediately sought to regain parity and from a corner Krysiak, who had attracted derision from the whole ground for appearing to have put his Toblerone-shaped boots on rendering his kicking atrocious, produced a world-class save when for all the world the ball looked destined for the top corner. He appeared to take a tumble, possibly colliding with thepost, and again needed treatment.
With the clock ticking over into the three minutes the referee deemed needed to be added on for stoppages, City expertly played out time, Gow and Oakley in particular using their guile and experience to keep the ball down by Wycombe’s corner flag, and that was it. The scoreboard told the story – Wycombe 0 Wycombe 1, well we did get them to score our goal!
Rarely will a win on the road have been more satisfying than this. There will be some very tired, not to mention bruised and battered, bodies, but from 1 to 10 (not 12) City’s players can take heart from a thoroughly professional performance and a seemingly unlikely victory against a side with a gameplan to ruffle feathers through physical play and gamesmanship. Even after going a man down there seemed to be little loss of composure and shape, and at no point (except possibly for a brief moment when the penalty was awarded) did City really look like losing. Alan Gow was probably the standout performer for his trickery up front and ceaseless energy, but special mention also to the two centre backs, who mopped up everything that was thrown at them and never lost concentration for a second.
Onwards and upwards – while City wait to hear if their application to play all their remaining games this season away from home is successful, there is another long road trip on Saturday to take on York.