|Matches of Yesteryear - Wycombe v U's 6/3/99|
Written by wessex_exile on Saturday, 21st Mar 2020 14:44
Here we are again, so greetings to all you social distancers and self-isolationists, I sincerely hope you are all well. This would have been our third fixture since the suspension of all football in the UK, and with more and more measures being implemented by the government to minimise social gatherings, including extending the football league break until at least the end of April, one wonders whether we’ll ever finish this season? There have been numerous measures announced, including £50m from the EFL, to minimise the financial burden on us smaller clubs, but Robbie Cowling has gone on record stating that “…to really survive and go forward there is going to be help needed from the Premier League or elsewhere” – quite right Robbie.
Wycombe Wanderers v Colchester United
Saturday 6th March 1999
Nationwide League Division 2 (Tier 3)
A notable milestone reached, Match #50 of the Matches of Yesteryear series, and again a match from the 1998/99 season has been randomly selected, and what a humdinger it was. The U’s travelled to Adams Park for our first visit since crushing them 5-2 back in 1993. That earlier match was notable in particular as it was the first football league defeat suffered by the Chairboys – quite appropriate really that we had the honour of inflicting it. The U’s, under Mick Wadsworth, were on quite a decent run at the time of this latest visit to Adams Park, six games unbeaten, and although only two of those had been victories, we were beginning to consolidate our position safe in mid-table. Wycombe were having a much tougher campaign, and after a dreadful January (losing all five matches in a row) and only a marginally better February, they were second bottom and 6pts from safety.
I travelled over on the train for this game, to join a sizeable turnout from Essex for the match. I’m not sure how many of the faithful had turned up, but it must have been at least 7-800 I reckon. Pre-match beers were taken at a very noisy and dissolute White Horse, followed by the customary police escort to the ground. Back then, these fixtures really did still have an edge, and there were some gnarly faces in the crowd that day that I’d rarely see at most matches – and the atmosphere inside the ground was volatile to say the least. This is yet another match for which I also have a ticket stub, but I’m pretty sure it wasn’t an all-ticket match.
As a result of their dreadful run of results in January, Lawrie Sanchez had taken over as manager of Wycombe Wanderers in February, following the sacking of Neil Smillie with the Chairboys looking destined for relegation. Sanchez’s brief was simple, avoid relegation at all costs, and a win and a draw from his first four matches had at least stopped the rot. Mind you, Mick Wadsworth only joined the U’s a few days earlier than Sanchez took up his position – replacing Steve Wignall at the end of January – so this was very much two new managers finding their feet at new clubs. Wadsworth had wasted no time bringing in new faces, signing Stéphane Pounewatchy from Port Vale, as well as loanees Warren Aspinall and Bradley Allen (from Brentford and Charlton Athletic respectively).
All three featured for this game, as the U’s lined up:
The match itself was very much a Jekyll and Hyde performance for the U’s. For the first half hour or so we were awesome, all over a Wycombe side who looked like a team bereft of confidence, and doomed to relegation. Just three minutes in, Neil Gregory blasts home an exquisite pass from Bradley Allen to put the U’s ahead 1-0, the faithful invade the pitch celebrating, only for referee Fraser Stretton to rule it out for a highly questionable offside. Pounewatchy in particular was proving to be a huge handful, and on 18 minutes was there to flick on a pinpoint corner from Aspinall to allow Dozzell to power home a header past the onrushing Taylor in the Wycombe goal. This time it really was 1-0, and the travelling blue and white army behind the goal were going absolutely mental. Three minutes later, and it should have been 2-0 as Bradley Allen scored for the U’s, only for this one to also be ruled out for a questionable handball.
We were rampant, and surely it was only a matter of time before more goals came. However, Sanchez had started to instil some steel in his relegation-haunted squad, and slowly they started to get back in the game. On 25 minutes Emberson pulled off a world class reflex save to deny a point-blank header from Scott, and five minutes later kept out a fierce shot from the same player. With five minutes to half-time, Wycombe should have equalised, but Simon Betts pulled off an excellent goal-line clearance from a powerful Keith Ryan header, and thought they had equalised when Baird turned the ball in from six yards – but this too was quickly ruled out for offside – much to our amusement behind the goal. However, amused we may have been, but by half-time it was clear we were actually hanging on now, despite our total dominance from the start.
The second half saw a significant shift in Wycombe’s tactics, deciding they’d resort more on some proper route one stuff, and it was sadly working. There was no doubt about it now, we were under the cosh and desperately holding on, with Scott flashing a free header wide of the goal early on when it looked easier to score. On 57 minutes our defiant rear-guard action was finally breached. A speculative goal-bound effort from McSporran hit the back of Joe Dunne and fortuitously rebounded into the path of Baird, who gratefully tucked in the rebound past a stranded Emberson. A harsh way to concede, but it had definitely been coming. On 75 minutes Wycombe went one better, when a decent free-kick from Carroll was headed home by Scott in the six yard box, to give Wycombe what by then was a deserved 2-1 lead.
Finally, stung into action by going behind, the U’s decided to grow a pair and actually compete in a game they should have been comfortably winning at one point. For the last 15 minutes this turned into a real blood and thunder battle, with the U’s going close to equalising, and Wycombe still clearly capable of getting another. The contest was exemplified by Aaron Skelton, going down with an ankle injury on 80 minutes when keenly contesting a 50:50 ball…and he stayed down too, for a long time, before eventually being stretchered off. As we approached 90 minutes, the U’s were now fully in control, with Wycombe happy to waste as much time as possible to try and just hold on to three vital points. Then the board went up – 7 minutes of injury-time to come, which was greeted by a deafening roar from the away end.
And still the U’s surged forward, wave after wave crashing against a resilient defence – Abrahams blasted one across the face of goal, David Gregory sent a header agonisingly wide, but time was running out. In the 8th minute of our seven minutes of injury-time (yes, Wycombe’s time-wasting had been that apparent that even corpulent Fraser Stretton couldn’t ignore it), Wycombe forced an unlikely corner, and the match looked over. With the U’s faithful breathing down their necks almost within arms reach, Wycombe decided to try to keep the ball in the corner, but the U’s were having none of it, and after a few hefty challenges went flying in, Buckle managed to dislodge the ball and send it flying up the pitch to Aspinall, who’s slide rule pass fell beautifully into the path of Neil Gregory. Gregory just ran and ran towards the Wycombe goal, Taylor came headlong out to meet him, and ended up taking Neil out in the penalty area for a clear spot-kick (and a yellow card for his troubles). Up stepped brother David, who gleefully dispatched the penalty in the 9th minute of injury-time to send us into raptures. The sight of David Gregory running back the length of the Wycombe main stand with his finger to his lips will stay with me forever!
The whistle was blown as soon as Wycombe restarted, and the U’s had snatched a draw from what had looked like certain defeat.
Wycombe Wanderers 2 (Andy Baird 57’, Keith Scott 75’) Colchester United 2 (Jason Dozzell 18’, David Gregory 90+9’p)
What a day it had been, and the fun wasn’t over then either. Initially held back inside the ground, a large group of U’s fans tried to force the locked gate open, causing quite a bit of damage in the process. When we finally got out, everyone bound for the station was herded on to shuttle buses, there was no option to walk back permitted. Probably just as well, because it was certainly a volatile atmosphere that afternoon. The police were their usual charmless self, and that day had probably underestimated the mood of the U’s fans, which resulted in a lot of confrontation, not least when the police were told to ‘do one’ when trying to get us actually off the shuttle buses.
Eventually things calmed down, and we all headed off on our various journeys home. As I’ve already covered in previous blogs for this season, we did avoid relegation, but it ended up being closer than we thought it might be back then in March. Although they dropped two points here, under Lawrie Sanchez Wycombe went on to have a very good final two months of the season, and escaped relegation on the very last day beating Lincoln City 1-0.
Up the U’s
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