Currently third in League One, Wycombe Wanderers lie in 18th when you look at the form table over the past ten weeks. It’s a feat in and of itself, but what’s going to happen to a side that nobody considered as real promotion candidates at the start of the season?
Will they continue to slip down the table towards irrelevance, or will Gareth Ainsworth’s men be able to find a second wind as they fight for a spot in the Championship?
Battling the Budget
Ainsworth has managed the team since September 2012, leading them to promotion from League Two while battling to keep the club together with a meagre budget. They finished 17th last season, and it’s easy to see why they were given few chances in the summer.
The Chairboys have one of the smallest squads in League One, but they were handed a major lifeline in October 2019. American investor Rob Couhig announced he had become a shareholder, so it looked likely that Wycombe would get some much needed additional funding. He installed his brother as a financial consultant, and went on to secure a 75% stake in the club.
Couhig's company is set to invest £2.2m to settle the team’s existing debts and make an additional £1m in funding available. They’re also going to pay for a new 15-year lease on Adams Park at £150,000 a year.
Their new majority shareholder had agreed to buy Yeovil in February 2019, but ended his interest after they were relegated to the National League. The news was obviously enough to boost the team, as players realised they were playing for their futures, while their wages would definitely be paid.
A Blistering Start
Their boss is the longest-serving manager in the football league, and first joined the club as a player over a decade ago. FIFA legend Adebayo Akinfenwa is their current top scorer, terrorising defences with his unique style of play and his ridiculous upper body strength. He’s already matched his tally for last season, and doesn’t seem ready to quit at the age of 37.
Former Wales U-21 captain Joe Jacobson has popped up with seven league goals of his own, and the signing is likely a product of their new financial stability. Wycombe also managed to sign Rolando Aarons from Newcastle United on loan until January, and he played a large part in their best ever start to life in League One.
In spite of their run and their current position, they’re still 22/1 longshots to pick the League One title. The odds are fair given their recent form.
The Form Table
Wycombe recently faced a Peterborough side who were winless in seven games, and fell apart after the dismissal of Giles Phillips after 23 minutes. They ended up being embarrassed in a 4-0 loss, exposing the cracks in their squad.
Worse still, they were pumped 4-0 a few weeks ago when they visited Sunderland, in stark contrast to a hard-fought 1-0 win back in October. They were down 3-0 by the 21st minute, and looked a shadow of the side that only lost once in 20 league games during the first half of the season. During that spell they picked up 43 points. They also conceded four to Coventry just before the New Year, which is a worrying trend as they enter the final stretch.
Beginning with their 1-0 loss to Oxford United in December, they’ve lost five of their last seven games, and their solo win came at the expense of Rochdale. The small squad are beginning to feel the effects of a long campaign, and they’ll need to stop the rot soon to have any chance of clinching an unlikely promotion spot.
The Home Stretch
They’ve just lost striker Scott Kashkat, who was banned from all football-related activity for six months by the FA after breaching betting rules. The club has decided to back the player, while an independent regulatory commission confirmed that “there was "no suggestion" he was match-fixing or using "inside information".
They’ve also lost Aarons, who made his way back to his parent club after a successful spell where he made ten appearances.
One piece of good news is that they’ve re-signed Millwall defender Jason McCarthy on loan until the end of the season. He left last summer after making 49 appearances, but struggled to break into the Lions’ first team. He knows most of the squad well, and he should be able to help shore up a backline which has looked leaky in recent weeks.
Wycombe has also signed Birmingham City goalkeeper David Stockdale on loan for the rest of the season as cover.
What Happened to Wycombe?
Considering everything, it’s obvious that the Chairboys were punching well above their weight at the start of the season. The takeover news caused performance levels to rise, while the league had to get used to a number of canny acquisitions in defence and attack.
Without Couhig, Ainsworth admits; "We'd have half the squad we've got, be down the bottom of the table and I don't know if the wages would've been paid this year.”
At worst they’ll survive for another season in League One, but they could yet push on for a promotion spot as long as they haven’t lost the mental edge. It’ll be hard to come back from conceding 14 goals in their last five games, but they’ve laid down solid foundations for future success.
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