Wycombe Wanderers v Doncaster Rovers: ‘Relegation was expected - it’s been a massive surprise!’ - the opposition view

Wycombe Wanderers have confounded expectations over the first three months of the season and continue to lead the way at the top of League One.

Friday, 22nd November 2019, 10:00 pm
Wycombe boss Gareth Ainsworth
Wycombe boss Gareth Ainsworth

So what has turned perennial strugglers into surprise promotion contenders?

We spoke to BBC Three Counties’ Phil Catchpole to get the lowdown on the Chairboys’ remarkable success.

Q: It’s been a wonderful start to the campaign for Wycombe. I imagine it has been somewhat unexpected?

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

PC: Massively. They had one of the smallest budgets, if not the smallest, in the division last season so staying up was seen as a massive success. And then at the start of the summer they were told it was being cut by another third so they had no real budget for the first few weeks of pre-season. The investors have since come in and bumped it up to what it was last season and with a little bit more besides. So everyone’s expectations were of a really tough campaign and probably relegation. It looked like being pretty grim so everyone now can hardly believe it.

Q: What have been the reasons for the success?

PC: There's been a few things. We lost a couple of the bigger earners which freed up some of the budget and when the money did come back in, Gareth Ainsworth has recruited extremely well. With the 12 players that came in, there was a lot of exciting attacking talent. But even though be signed a few, there is still a real backbone there with the likes of Akinfenwa, Jacobson, Bloomfield and Gape that have been there for years. He calls them his generals. They tend to appear in the big games and Ainsworth speaks of needing his generals out there. And then there’s been the younger players around Akinfenwa up fron that have really added a lot of pace. For the first time there’s a bit of depth to the squad. It’s a combination of the generals and the exciting young players.

Q: Gareth Ainsworth looked likely to leave earlier this year. Has that situation died down now?

PC: I’m fairly sure he was interviewed for the Sunderland job and I’m sure he’d have gone if they'd offered it to him. I think now the off the field issues have solved themselves with the investment being voted through, I think he’ll have more of a budget and stable background to work with. I think he wants to see where he can go with those guys. He’s got a young family and is settled where he lives. It would have to be something really special for him to go now – or Blackburn because they’re his team. He's done an amazing job so he’s always going to linked with jobs, especially as long as they stay near the top of the table.

Q: What system and style of play does he favour?

PC: He tends to go 4-3-3 with with Akinfenwa down the middle and the two young strikers out wide will drop deep to pack the midfield. He often matches up the system of the team they are playing against. They are in your face and press the opposition really hard. They are a set piece team too, and every free kick will be sent into the box.

Q: Who are the danger men?

PC: Centre back Darius Charles has a great story. He was at Wycombe last season but didn’t play another game after injury and he was told by a surgeon that he would have to retire because he’s got an arthritic hip – it’s basically the same problem that Andy Murrray has got. In the summer he changed his lifestyle, became vegan and looked set to become a personal trainer. Wycombe invited him in during the summer to train with them and because there was no money at the start of pre-season, there was hardly any players so he played in a couple of games and did really well. They offered him a short term deal and he's been absolutely brilliant. He's played in almost every league game and he's been superb.

And then you cannot miss out Adebayo Akinfenwa who continues to cause all manner of problems for the opposition.