Rochdale snatched three points with a deflected goal in the second minute of injury-time to inflict a painful 2-1 defeat on Wycombe Wanderers at Adams Park.
Wycombe have only themselves to blame after playing their full part in an entertaining encounter on a cold and bleak November afternoon. Yet again they conceded in the early stages of a match and then missed a host of chances before being hit with a sucker punch at the death.
Rochdale will probably feel justice was done given that they were denied what appeared to be not one, but two, stonewall penalties by referee Keith Stroud, who was the worst performer on the pitch by some distance.
The attendance of 3,020 is new record low for a Football League fixture played at Adams Park on a Saturday afternoon. It is also the second lowest ever home attendance of a Wycombe Wanderers match in the Football League.
Gareth Ainsworth made two changes to the starting line-up in his first game as permanent boss with defender Leon Johnson returning from a knee injury and striker Dean Morgan making his comeback after a hamstring injury. Midfielder Matt Spring missed out with a calf injury whilst Ainsworth dropped himself to the bench.
There were less than five minutes on the clock when the hosts pulled off their usual trick of making things ever harder for themselves when striker Bobby Grant’s low cross was finished with aplomb by striker Ashley Grimes, who gave goalkeeper Jordan Archer no chance from close range.
To their credit however the Wanderers picked themselves up and went on to dominate the rest of the first half and should have taken a lead into the break. Winger Bruno Andrade saw his volley from the edge of the box deflected wide on eight minutes and shortly afterwards Charles Dunne showed a great piece of skill to cut inside from the right only to shoot wastefully straight at visiting goalkeeper Josh Lillis.
Lillis was soon back in action to block Dennis Oli’s shot from close range after the winger had cut in from the left flank and from the resulting corner defender Dave Winfield climbed highest to send a header towards the top right-hand corner but Grant was in the right place to head off his own goal-line.
With 25 minutes played the Chairboys were treated to a special equaliser. Winger Joel Grant, like Dunne before him, received the ball on the right and ran towards goal before cutting inside a defender and into the area. This time however he retained his composure and coolly clipped the ball over the diving Lillis and into the net.
The goal clearly gave the home side a surge of confidence and midfielder Josh Scowen ought to have done a little better when he headed Dean Morgan’s left-wing cross straight at Lillis. The visitors had shown little attacking intent since taking the lead but Bobby Grant did curl a free-kick just wide of the post on the half-hour mark.
Shortly afterwards Wycombe received a remarkable let-off when a long diagonal ball was played out towards Grimes on the left side of the area. Despite running away from goal Dunne appeared to bundle clumsily into the back of the Dale striker, sending him crashing to the turf, but Mr Stroud wasn’t in the slightest bit interested.
There was also a growing sense of frustration at the lack of team-work between the four attacking players as a number of promising moves were left unrealised due to poor decision making or just plain selfishness. Joel Grant then created a chance for Morgan but he failed to anticipate the defender missing the ball in front him.
On the stroke of half-time the Blues conjured up a fine move with sharp interplay between Morgan and Andrade teeing up Dennis Oli with a shooting opportunity but the winger seemed to get his feet in a panic and he sliced his shot horribly wide of the right-hand upright.
There was at least no repeat of the slow start from the home side in the second half and they forced Lillis into another save after 49 minutes when he pushed Oli’s drive from the edge of the box over the bar. Shortly afterwards Scowen’s right-wing corner reached Johnson whose close-range header was well held by Lillis right underneath his crossbar.
Mr Stroud produced arguably his most bizarre decision of the afternoon on 56 minutes when Sam Wood twice appeared to have fouled Bobby Grant in the area but the man in black booked the Dale striker for simulation instead. The second half soon became rather stretched as both sides looked for a winner.
The visitors enjoyed the freedom of the midfield, and consequently more of the possession as the minutes ticked by and Grimes was inches away from getting a touch on Bobby Grant’s cross-shot before Archer had to get down well to save from midfielder Andrew Tutte’s low shot after Wood had found himself in no-man’s land.
Wycombe meanwhile were unable to find a way past Lillis, although both Andrade and Dunne might have done better had they not shot straight at him, with the latter also again taking the selfish option when he should have looked for a team-mate in a better position.
Dean Morgan’s petulance saw him replaced by Junior Morais on 75 minutes as he looked like getting himself sent off and the teenage winger did well to win a free-kick on the edge of the box with just five minutes remaining but Dunne curled his effort straight into the arms of Lillis.
In the first of five minutes of injury-time Joel Grant screwed his shot across the face before the dénouement ninety seconds later. Andrade conceded possession in hopeless fashion and sent Dale on a quick break away. Tutte played the ball to Bobby Grant and he hit a shot from 25 yards which clipped Leon Johnson and looped up in the air, over Archer and into the bottom left-hand corner of the net.
There was no way back for the hosts and they crashed to a demoralising defeat. It is exactly the kind of circumstance that happens to sides who are destined for the drop. It leaves the Blues without a win in six matches and above the bottom two in League Two by virtue of a less inferior goal difference.
Man of the Match: Joel Grant.