WYCOMBE have one foot at Wembley after a convincing League One play-off semi-final first leg win on the Fylde coast and EFL pundit Gab Sutton (@_FootbalLab) asks whether there is any hope for Fleetwood.
Wycombe vs Fleetwood | Monday 6th July 2020, 19:30 | Sky Sports
Before the first leg play-off semi-final meeting, Fleetwood boss Joey Barton claimed Wycombe could not have prepared for the game better than his side. In fact, the Cod Army were outplayed by their visitors and fell to a 4-1 defeat!
The job is not yet done for the Chairboys, who will not have the numerical advantage they enjoyed for 57 minutes on Friday – and Fleetwood possess a squad with greater natural pedigree.
It would take something special, though, for the visitors to turn the tide or tie.
Wanderers in wonderland
The one surprise from Gareth Ainsworth’s starting XI in the first leg was the selection of athlete Nnamdi Ofoborh ahead of ball-winner Curtis Thompson, who had started 12 more games in the league campaign. Ofoborh defied his doubters within a minute, though, with a belter of a strike from range; the midfielder did a great job next to the more composed Dominic Gape.
Although Wycombe conceded the equaliser through the harshest penalty of the League One season, they went ahead again through Joe Jacobson scoring from his own corner for the third time this season – the Welsh left-back then proceeded to miss the most blatant penalty of the League One season.
David Wheeler, who has built up a fantastic right-sided partnership with Jack Grimmer, struck the third before Alex Samuel put Wanderers in a very favourable position.
Samuel is a consistent terrier up top and his mobility ensures Ainsworth has an alternative option to Adebayo Akinfenwa, allowing him to adapt to different scenarios – so while Samuel has only scored two league goals this season, his all-round work is fantastic and a big part of why Wycombe have got to this stage.
Fleetwood’s lack of discipline
It’s surprising that the Cod Army capitulated so drastically on Friday, considering the theoretical quality of their squad. Paul Coutts and Glenn Whelan have both performed competently in the upper reaches of the Championship, so should on paper be dominating midfields in League One.
One of the factors behind such a disappointing performance from Fleetwood was the absence of Danny Andrew. The former Grimsby Player of the Year is a natural left wing-back and there was no clear alternative to him in the XI, with right-back Lewie Coyle generally playing on his unnatural side.
Coyle was then sent off for the most irresponsible challenge we have seen in the EFL campaign – a lunge on Jacobson inside the box – which highlighted a concerning lack of discipline.
The obvious narrative would be that Barton is unable to control his players because, when Coyle and Paddy Madden were sent off, the latter for abusing the referee after a non-penalty, Barton consoled both players, rather than employ the colder touchline stance that is more common.
The 37-year-old is in no position to give his players lectures on self-control because of all he, himself, has done – so how can players know what is acceptable and what isn’t?
Perhaps surprisingly, though, Fleetwood had just one red card in the league season and they have been fouled more often than they have committed fouls, so it could be that these two dismissal merely represent unwelcome anomalies in a particularly charged encounter.
The tactics board
Before the Play-Offs, there had been a lot of talk about how Wycombe would use Darius Charles, who is undoubtedly the best centre-back partner for Anthony Stewart but has rarely been asked this season to play 180 minutes in four days for fitness reasons.
In the anticipated circumstances of this game being in the balance heading to Adams Park, this would have been a dilemma for Ainsworth and perhaps he might have asked Charles to battle through the 90 – but with a healthy lead, “Wild Thing” might feel he can afford to take a risk on Giles Phillips if things are going well at the interval.
The only likely alteration, though, will be Curtis Thompson for 17-year stalwart Matt Bloomfield; although Thompson has tended to be a classic ball-winner, he can also play as a “destructive #10”, serving to disrupt the opposition’s rhythm through his tenacity.
With little to lose for the visitors, we can expect Joey Barton to revert to 4-3-3 with Kyle Dempsey likely to come in for Callum Connolly to provide midfield thrust. Full-backs Coyle and Andrew will be given license to press high up the pitch in their attempts to get an early goal, which is essential to their chances of salvaging any hopes of promotion.
Fleetwood, in best-case scenario, need a goal on average every half hour to take the tie to extra time, while Wycombe will get numerous opportunities to steal the ball through Thompson and perhaps Ofoborh, then attack quickly in transition, primarily through Onyedinma and Samuel.
It all points to a high-scoring encounter.
The betting angle
Five of the last seven play-off semi-final second legs dating back to 1991, which see one team carrying a lead of three or more goals from the first leg, have seen both teams score.
We can expect Fleetwood to double their average of 12.5 shots per game due to the unique circumstances, while their desperation could help Wycombe create several clear cut chances on the break, so there are reasons to believe that both teams will find the net.
Quotes of evens (William Hill) on this eventuality seem very generous.
Wycombe vs Fleetwood – Both Teams to Score (1/1 William Hill)