Without a shadow of a doubt, Wycombe Wanderers have been on a whirlwind journey over the past few seasons, surviving relegation to the conference by the skin of their teeth on the last day of the season, followed by Wembley heartbreak with the club being only seconds away from what would have been a well deserved promotion to League One. However, last season was somewhat of an anti-climax, high expectations going into the season, a chance to push on from the disappointment of a sickening play-off defeat. Ultimately, a lack of consistency was evident and any opportunity of promotion slowly ebbed away at the turn of the year.
The lack of consistency that was clearly visible was down to a number of factors. Not as the Chairboys manager Gareth Ainsworth suggested because Wycombe Wanderers is a small club, with a small squad and a lack of material and immaterial resources, this simply isn’t an argument, as after all Accrington Stanley, possibly the smallest club in the English professional leagues had an exceptionally strong season. Rather, poor results were down to loan signings not really paying off (they were pivotal in the previous season), a lack of tactical awareness at times, injuries to key players and probably the most significant of all – a distinct lack of goals (45 all season, only Yeovil and Newport scored less) – defensively the squad was sound, but if you don’t score goals, you don’t win matches, it is as simply as that.
The rationale behind a recognisable lack of goals was most probably the lack of an attacking mindset the team seem to have, it was as if the team knew to an extent how to go about scoring a goal, with brief spells of brilliant high tempo passing football on offer in nearly every fixture, which would nearly always lead to a goal or a significant chance, however, on the most part, aimless balls forward to strikers were the order of the day at Adams Park. Clearly, this wasn’t the right way to go about scoring goals, especially with the Chairboys’ regular strike partnership of Paul Hayes and Garry Thompson somewhat past their prime, yes, they work hard and when build-up is done in the right way they picked up goals, but more often than not they were out-paced by younger sprightlier opposition defences. Other younger attacking options such as Gozie Ugwu (Yeovil’s top scorer in 2014/15) and Rowan Liburd (11 goals for Reading U21s), who looked to offer a lot more panache up front had little or no impact when it came to scoring goals, mustering only two between them all season.
Reflecting on a dismal goalscoring season it is clear that Gareth Ainsworth has identified these concerns and has already opened up his black book of contacts in order to rectify this situation as he looks to construct a side capable of reaching the heights of League One which had slipped further and further from their grasps last season.
Prior to today, three signings had been made by Ainsworth, all of which looked to reignite the dwindling flame that the Wanderers strike force had become. The first signing – to whom I wrote about previously was Dayle Southwell from Boston United. Clearly, from Liburd’s performances and other self proclaimed academy wonder-kids in the past that have graced the hallow turf at Adams Park in the light and dark blue, Premier League academy players aren’t always the players to go for at League Two level, for the primary reason that most academy players won’t be able to adapt to a more aggressive game played by more seasoned and experienced professionals. Instead, bringing in a player like Southwell who was prolific at Boston (54 goals in two seasons), who has experience at playing at the uglier end of the footballing spectrum, and who also evidently has an eye for goal could well be much more beneficial when making the step up to League Two.
The second and third signings were both wingers, and both of which are likely to add an extra dimension to the attack. Paris Cowan-Hall – who returns to the Chairboys from a disappointing spell at Millwall where ultimately a broken ankle saw any chance of becoming a seasoned player at The New Den impossible. Prior to leaving Wycombe for Millwall, Cowan-Hall impressed management and fans, with his footballing mind, blistering pace and flair, seeing him find the net on ten occasions, and also racked up multiple assists whilst at Wycombe. He is joined by Myles Weston. Weston, whom has played at a higher level at the likes of Brentford, Southend and Gillingham, as well as having 4 international caps for Antigua and Barbuda is another dangerous attacking player who in Ainsworth’s mind is a player who without a doubt will ‘bring pace, creativity and a goal threat’ to proceedings. Hopefully, once the season begins the link up play will improve and more crossing opportunities will emerge to assist the newest Wycombe Wanderers signing, iconic cult hero – Adebayo Akinfenwa.
The question is, is the man known as ‘The Beast’ all he’s hyped up to be? Or have Wycombe Wanderers purely signed him to become the new face of the club’s main sponsors Beechdean Ice Cream?
Personally, as a fan, for the club it is a great coup, especially knowing that many other clubs, with much greater financial backing were pursuing his signature. Despite the fact Akinfenwa is coming to the end of his career aged 34, the stats don’t lie, 71 goals for Northampton, 21 at Gillingham and 19 goals at AFC Wimbledon. The fact he was released by AFC Wimbledon following their promotion to League One should be overlooked, regardless, it is clear that the strength of an ox and the eye for goal that he possesses has been a reason why he has been so successful wherever he has played – especially at League Two level, where most defences, including when he’s played against the Wanderers in the past just don’t have the capacity to deal with player built like Akinfenwa is. Combine this with the new impetus that the Chairboys will soon have on the wings in Cowan-Hall and Weston, there could be great scope for many more goal scoring opportunities than in the previous domestic campaign.
Even if Akinfenwa doesn’t slot into the Ainsworth’s starting XI, he could prove to be a great option if the team was searching for a goal, and also to give relative old-timers Hayes and Thompson some respite if fixtures get too congested.
Off the field, I feel as if ‘The Beast’ will also be beneficial to the rest of the squad and the whole club. In the dressing room, a big character such as Akinfenwa, along with all of his playing experience could really be beneficial to younger players coming through the ranks, and his leadership qualities and enthusiasm could see the team really pushing for promotion again. From a business point of view, Akinfenwa is also a very clever signing, following his unveiling as a Wycombe player earlier today, fans and social media went into relative meltdown, purely based on this, I’d expect ticket and merchandise sales to definitely increase, which can only be a good thing for a small team, with big aspirations.
Time will tell, Akinfenwa is expected to make his Wycombe Wanderers debut in a pre-season friendly against Le Havre on Tuesday 12th July.
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