Wycombe Wanderers 3 Cheltenham Town 3
In an echo of last season’s six-goal thriller between the two sides, Wanderers were denied all three points by a late Robins’ equaliser.
Adams Park erupted with howls of fury as the officials failed to penalise a blatant foul in the build up, but the Chairboys failed to defend the ensuing cross and a precious victory was gone.
The visitors led 1-0 at half-time against the run of play, but with a glorious spell of attacking football immediately after the break, Wanderers quickly took a 3-1 lead.
With loanee midfielder Eberechi Eze dissecting the Robins at will, it looked a question of how many Wycombe would score until Cheltenham boss Gary Johnson made a triple substitution that altered the pattern of the game.
Wanderers will however be disappointed with their defending for all three of the visitors’ goals.
Blues’ boss Gareth Ainsworth made three changes to the side that lost at Swindon.
Despite reports that Sido Jombati and Anthony Stewart were likely to return to the squad, neither were fit and Dan Scarr was also missing at the back.
This created an opportunity for Will De Havilland who came into the side along with Eze and Craig Mackail-Smith.
Out went Matt Bloomfield, Paris Cowan-Hall and the injured Scarr.
The early exchanges were even, with the first effort of note arriving after 16 minutes when Joe Jacobson’s free-kick was saved by Robins’ keeper Scott Flinders.
Nick Freeman was in the thick of the action all afternoon, and he was next to shoot from an Akinfenwa knock-down, before returning the favour moments later with a great cross that the Beast volleyed just over the bar.
Cheltenham were awarded a free-kick mid-way inside the Wycombe half after 22 minutes and this was launched to the far post where a header back into the danger area was turned home by Brian Graham.
It was a standard set-piece, poorly defended and totally against the run of play.
Wanderers continued to press but could only muster a series of half-chances with Flinders comfortably saving efforts from Gape, Freeman and Jacobson.
Scott Brown made a point blank save with his legs after 41 minutes when an unmarked Danny Wright really should have scored, and the Blues were lucky again moments later when Mohamed Eisa slipped just as he was about to convert.
Wycombe’s best chance of the half fell to Mackail-Smith who collected a peach of a pass from Eze, advanced on Flinders, but failed to make the keeper work, instead poking his shot past the post.
As the half time whistle sounded, the evidence suggested that Wanderers were perfectly capable of overturning the deficit but equally capable of conceding a few more.
And so it proved in a roller-coaster second period that began with a fine goal from Eze who carried the ball forward, passed it wide to Saunders and took the return in his stride, stroking it past Flinders to level the score.
That was after only 48 minutes, and just three minutes later Wycombe were ahead when Eze and Freeman played a one-two before the latter hit the post and Akinfenwa turned home the rebound.
Things got even better 10 minutes later when Freeman, Saunders and Eze (again) combined to feed Mackail-Smith who did brilliantly to tee the ball up for Akinfenwa to stroke home his 9th goal of the season.
Wanderers were rampant, the Robins were in tatters and all was well with the world. For a while.
Johnson’s triple substitution breathed life into the visitors, Carl Winchester was given ample space to unleash a long daisy-cutter that got the better of Brown, and Cheltenham were suddenly back in the game with 20 minutes still to play.
The Robins’ belief had returned and they were rewarded with the equaliser after 89 minutes when the towering Graham out-jumped the Wycombe defence for the umpteenth time to loop the ball back across goal and over the line in something akin to a slow-motion horror movie.
The cross came from Eisa who blatantly pushed Eze to the ground in order to win the ball – right in front of the linesman.
It was an outrageous decision not to give the foul, but the officials can’t be blamed for the defending that followed as Wanderers conceded their 32nd goal of the season in 18 outings.
It’s ironic that having assembled the most exciting attack Wycombe have had for years, Ainsworth finds he has an Achilles heel at the back where the Chairboys are usually so strong.
Today’s result gives Wanderers a haul of just 3 points from last possible 12 and they drop two places to 7th in the table.
Line-up & ratings
Brown (5), Gape (6), De Havilland (5), El-Abd (5), Jacobson (5), Bean (6), Saunders (7), Eze (9), Mackail-Smith (7) (Cowan-Hall 72 (n/a)), Akinfenwa (8), Freeman (8) (Bloomfield 86 (n/a))
Blues rue dire decision and dodgy defending
Wycombe Wanderers 3 Cheltenham Town 3