Wycombe Wanderers 2 Dagenham & Redbridge 0
Three points, a second consecutive clean sheet, and a first goal from open play in over ten hours. For the Wycombe fans, it was like all their Christmases had come at once.
It was just as well too. Northampton and Portsmouth, the Chairboys’ nearest rivals at the start of the day, both won, so although several other clubs have been dragged into the relegation battle after today’s results, Wycombe remain in 22nd place, three points clear of the drop.
Today’s victory was fully deserved. The Daggers were reduced to ten men when Scott Doe was sent off after 41 minutes, but the Blues had been the better side up to that point and went on to dominate the second half.
A penalty from Steven Craig after 47 minutes and a fine strike from Max Kretzschmar just ten minutes later, enabled Wycombe to relax a little, and as a result, the Adams Park crowd were treated to some of the most exciting football they’ve seen from their side this season.
Blues’ boss Gareth Ainsworth made one change to the side that drew at Scunthorpe last week. A fit-again Matt McClure returned to the side after missing three matches and Sam Togwell dropped to the bench.
With the Daggers still hoping for a play-off place, and survival uppermost in the minds of everyone connected with Wycombe, there was a nervy start to the game, the first action of any note not arriving until the 11th minute when Aaron Pierre headed a corner over the visitors’ crossbar.
While we’re on the subject of Pierre, what a good player he looks. Solid as a rock at the heart of the defence and with good distribution too. Praise should also be heaped on his central-defensive partner, young Daniel Rowe.
Twelve days ago, neither player had ever appeared in a Football League match, and now they’ve got two clean sheets to their name. Funny old game.
Anyway, no sooner had Pierre put his header over, than Matt McClure was saving Wycombe’s bacon at the other end by clearing the ball off the line after Matt Ingram failed to deal with a cross.
This led to a spell of pressure from the Daggers, involving a couple of corners and a shot that flew just past the post.
The next bit of excitement saw McClure break clear and dink a shot over keeper Chris Lewington, but the flag went up for offside and the ball hit the woodwork anyway.
Stuart Lewis has worked on his shooting this season, and further evidence of that was clear to see when he met a corner kick with a ferocious volley that was deflected for another corner.
Next up was a sweeping move involving Sam Wood, Kretzschmar and finally McClure, whose shot-on-target fell victim to yet another deflection.
Amazingly, on the half-hour mark, one of Wycombe`s short corner routines almost worked. Whether this was something they’d actually rehearsed in training or just pure luck we’ll probably never know, but it fooled the Daggers and culminated in a fine strike from Matt Bloomfield that Lewington could only parry to safety.
Bloomfield was injured shortly afterwards and replaced by Marvin McCoy who slotted in at right-back with Nick Arnold moving up to right-midfield. At the time, this wasn’t seen as a particularly adventurous change, but as it turned out, Arnold had a decent second-half. Credit where it’s due.
As we approached half-time all hell broke loose.
Chasing a through ball, Steven Craig arrived fractionally after Lewington and appeared to leave his foot in and make contact with the diving keeper.
Daggers’ defender Scott Doe took exception to this and attempted to throttle Craig, something that many Wycombe fans would have been happy to help him with following the Scottish striker’s unhelpful comments in the Bucks Free Press on Friday.
But credit where credit’s due again. Craig put himself about this afternoon, worked like a Trojan and scored a vital goal.
Anyway, the upshot was, Craig was booked, and the excellent Geoff Eltringham brandished a red card at Doe.
There was still time for Craig to almost score a goal from open play, but he didn’t, and it was deflected wide.
At half time you could almost cut the tension with a knife. Northampton and Portsmouth were winning, and there was a fear that Wycombe would find it difficult to break down ten-men who might park the bus.
What was needed was an early goal, and that’s exactly what we got when Stuart Lewis was brought down in the box after 46 minutes and good old Geoff pointed to the spot. Best ref we’ve had all season.
Up stepped Craig, one eye on the ball, one eye on the keeper, and his mind firmly fixed on his bonus. You could have heard a pin drop.
Lewington guessed correctly, but Craig’s strike was hard, low and accurate, and the Blues were in the lead.
Five minutes later and Craig was in the midst of the action again having two bites of the cherry before his second effort was deflected wide.
Next up was a pulled-shot from Kretzschmar that skidded past the post, but the young midfielder’s moment of glory wasn’t far away.
It was now over ten hours since Wycombe’s last goal from open play, and McClure did his best to stop the rot with a fine header that crashed against the Daggers’ crossbar on 56 minutes.
This is Wycombe, and a one goal lead is rarely enough, so when Kretzschmar’s fierce drive arrowed its way past Lewington and into the net just moments later, Adams Park erupted.
It was the first time all season that Wycombe had held a two goal lead at home.
You could almost see the confidence flow back into the players, and what followed was a performance that deserved the generous applause the team were given at the final whistle.
There could have been more goals. Arnold had a shot saved, Wood’s effort was deflected, and a fine drive from Lewis missed the target by inches.
It was a strange feeling to enter stoppage time without desperately needing to score or being terrified of conceding. It was almost relaxed. More please.
Line-up and ratings
Ingram (6), Arnold (7), Rowe (7), Pierre (8), Wood (8), Bloomfield (6) (McCoy 34 (6)), Lewis (7), Scowen (8), Kretzschmar (8), McClure (7) (Styche 85 (n/a)), Craig (7) (Pittman 81 (n/a))
Blues bank a vital three points
Wycombe Wanderers 2 Dagenham & Redbridge 0