Wycombe Wanderers paid the price for not being clinical enough in front of goal when Northampton Town converted a late penalty to make the final score 1-1 at Sixfields Stadium this afternoon.
Referee Carl Boyeson had infuriated both sets of supporters with some bizarre decisions throughout the game and you always felt he had a penalty in him – the trick was to avoid giving him the excuse to award it.
Sadly for Wycombe, Ben Strevens couldn’t resist making an unnecessary striker’s challenge on Andy Holt after 87 minutes, and sure enough, Mr Boyeson pointed to the spot and Kevin Thornton duly fired home the equaliser.
It was always a danger at 1-0 and the Blues will be kicking themselves (if they don’t miss) for not putting the game to bed earlier, having wasted several gilt-edged chances to score a killer second-goal after the break.
Wycombe started the game on the front foot but it was Northampton’s Thornton who had the first chance to score when he fired the ball over the bar after Billy McKay had split the Wanderers’ defence apart with a slide-rule pass.
A minute later, the Blues were cursing their luck when a deflected Andy Sandell free-kick struck the post, and before the Cobblers had time to draw breath, Lewis Montrose fired a rasping shot just over the crossbar.
Kevin Betsy was back to his tricky best today but finishing remains his weakness and when he made room for himself after eight minutes, his scuffed shot didn’t match the skill that had come before it.
Northampton began to make their own presence felt and a sustained period of pressure on the quarter-hour mark required Dave Winfield to make a superb headed clearance and keeper Nikki Bull to make a flying one-handed save to tip a McKay shot over the bar.
Winfield really impressed today, and his partnership with the flawless Leon Johnson can only be good news for Gary Waddock. The Cobblers were certainly getting no change out of the central defenders, but the same couldn’t be said of the full backs, and the home side’s main threat came from the number of crosses they were allowed the time and space to make.
Wycombe regained the upper hand in the final ten minutes of the first-half and Gareth Ainsworth fired a shot wide before Strevens was unlucky with a fine strike which took a deflection and flashed past the Cobblers’ post. From the resulting corner, Sandell could only direct his header over the crossbar.
Wycombe’s goal arrived after 38 minutes when a Gareth Ainsworth cross appeared to be handled in the box by a Northampton player. Referee Boyeson decided it was outside the box but it didn’t matter in the end when Sandell curled a beautifully placed free-kick into the top corner of the net to give Wycombe a well-deserved half-time lead.
The second-half was far more evenly balanced than the first, but until the late penalty, Northampton only created two chances of note – the first was wasted by Steve Guinan who fired high and wide when it looked easier to score – and the second forced the impressive Nikki Bull to make another flying save, this time from Thornton.
The Blues had several great goalscoring opportunities but blew the lot. In among them was a chance they never actually got to take when Matt Bloomfield was blatantly tripped just outside the Cobblers’ box and as the Northampton players began to form their wall, referee Boyeson stunned everyone by giving the free-kick the other way and booking the Wycombe midfielder for diving. Bloomfield couldn’t believe it and he wasn’t the only one!
Kevin Betsy found himself bearing down on the Oxford goalkeeper last Saturday and history repeated itself today. To his credit he created both opportunities himself, but I’m afraid the result was the same and today he was caught before he was able to pull the trigger.
Almost immediately afterwards, a long throw from Andy Sandell was back-headed into the Cobblers’ box by Leon Johnson only for the hapless Scott Rendell to miss the target altogether when perfectly placed to score. Rendell is clearly trying very hard but at the moment it’s just not happening for him in front of goal, and his wayward passing also caused several promising moves to break down.
The next to miss was Strevens who put the ball wide from a couple of yards out after Rendell had collected a quick throw-in from Betsy and slid the ball into the danger area.
After Northampton’s equaliser Wycombe began to attack with more urgency, but it was too late by then and their best hope was dashed when referee Boyeson didn’t buy their claims for a penalty after Gareth Ainsworth went to ground under a challenge in the box.
On the way home it felt like two points dropped – which I suppose is an improvement on the Stockport & Oxford games which both felt like a point gained.
Man of the Match – Dave Winfield
Bull, Foster, Winfield, Johnson, Sandell, Ainsworth (Murtagh 90), Bloomfield, Montrose, Betsy, Strevens, Rendell (Pittman 90).