Some media would claim that Highbury Avenue was the venue for a giant-killing. They would have you believe it was a shock. It was neither of those things. Wycombe Wanderers were no giant and there was no surprise for the 2,711 spectators when Fleetwood Town recorded a thoroughly deserved 2-0 victory to progress through to the F.A. Cup Second Round.
Fleetwood Town are a club on the up and are well-financed by Owner Andy Pilley. The club’s wages bill is said to be on a par with ours and they splashed out a six-figure transfer fee this summer on striker Jamie Vardy. Whilst he made a real impact on the proceedings, our own big-money striker Scott Rendell was left on the bench having just returned from loan at Bristol Rovers.
If the writing wasn`t already on the wall there was soon some scribbling when striker Stuart Beavon was ruled-out with an injury picked up in training on Wednesday. That meant manager Gary Waddock was forced into two changes with Dave Winfield replacing Marvin McCoy and Joel Grant replaced Beavon to partner Ben Strevens in attack. Fleetwood made one change with Andy Mangan coming in for Ryan Jackson.
The Chairboys had a scare inside the first twenty seconds when Winfield`s clearance was blocked by striker Richard Brodie and the ball bounced a yard wide of the upright. The visitors soon assumed a semblance of control with the midfield enjoying a greater possession and Grant looked a threat on the right of the attack. Sadly he failed to provide any end-product and soon drifted out of the game.
Wycombe wasted two presentable chances in the space of a minute. The first fell to midfielder Stuart Lewis inside the box but he pulled his shot wide of goalkeeper Scott Davies` left-hand upright. Scott Donnelly then did likewise less than sixty seconds later as the home side looked a little anxious. That didn`t last long and Vardy soon made his first real impression on the game.
He looked to get on the end of a ball forward only to be body-checked by Winfield and after consulting with his linesman the referee showed the big defender his fifth yellow card of the season, and he will now miss next weekend`s crucial league clash with AFC Bournemouth at Adams Park. From the resulting free-kick midfielder Jamie Mulligan curled the ball against the left-hand upright with Nikki Bull beaten all ends-up.
The Wanderers received another let-off on 19 minutes when full-back Shaun Beeley`s right-wing cross was headed back across goal for Brodie who turned only to blaze his shot over the bar from six-yards. The hosts had wrested the initiative and they had their higher league opponents on the rack. Some desperate defending kept them out until the 25th minute when the deadlock was broken.
Full-back Alan Goodall lifted the ball into the penalty area where striker Andy Mangan, looking suspiciously offside, guided a right-footed volley across Bull and into the far corner of the net. Whilst the visitors appeals fell on deaf ears there were wild celebrations from the hosts who fully deserved their lead. Within a minute Winfield was fortunate not to have conceded a penalty when he appeared to accidentally trip Vardy in the box.
Fleetwood should have extended their advantage on 28 minutes when Milligan`s free-kick from the left was met by Brodie with a powerful header that crashed against the face of the crossbar and the rebound appeared to be handled by Rowlands but the hosts appeals were waved away. It was one-way traffic and Bull had to make a fine double-save to push away Vardy`s low-shot and then get up quickly to block Brodie`s effort from the re-bound.
Grant shot straight at Davies in a rare-attack from the visitors before they were dealt a blow when midfielder Martin Rowlands was forced to come off through injury and he was replaced by Jordon Ibe. The Chairboys appeared to have been given a lifeline when the home side were reduced to ten men just two minutes before half-time. Brodie went in with his elbow on Leon Johnson and the referee immediately brandished the red card.
Rarely has karma worked so quickly. A quarter of an hour earlier Brodie had pleaded with the man in black to show Winfield a second yellow card in an exhibition of dreadful sportsmanship. Brodie’s behaviour was appalling throughout the time he was on the pitch with the faux-shock at a throw-in decision going against him comical in the extreme. His time under Crawley Town`s Steve Evans has clearly paid off.
Half-time arrived with the visitors still having some sort of hope. The second half soon saw that evaporate as the Cod Army went with a 4-5-1 formation and coped admirably despite the numerical disadvantage. The home and away fans had been side-by-side in the first half and that created a cracking atmosphere but that was lost after the break as they moved ends to watch their team attack the far goal.
The Wanderers certainly enjoyed the greater possession in the second 45 minutes but it made little difference because there was no way past the hosts` back-line. That was due in no small part to Captain Steve McNulty who was the proverbial man mountain. He headed and hoofed numerous crosses and balls into the box away with his bulky torso appearing not to hinder him. He was the man-of-the-match by some distance.
Ibe forced Davies to save with his feet at his near-post after opting to beat his man rather than pass to a better-placed team-mate. Regrettably he did this on two or three other occasions and the chance was lost each time. Waddock waited less than seven minutes before hooking off Kadeem Harris and bring on Rendell which saw a second switch of positions. Shortly afterwards Lewis screwed a shot wide from outside the box.
Fleetwood almost doubled their lead on 57 minutes when Milligan almost caught out Bull from a free-kick from a narrow angle out near the right corner-flag and the Wanderers` glovesman did well to fist the ball over the bar. From the following corner Mangan was given space in the box to curl a shot towards the bottom corner which Bull did well to turn aside.
Three minutes later Waddock made a final throw of the dice with Winfield coming off to be replaced by forgotten man Elliot Benyon. One might describe it as a brave and positive decision whilst another could say it was a sign of panic. It saw the formation switch to a 3-4-3 and again players were moved around. It also left the visitors looking vulnerable to the counter-attack.
All of the play was towards the Town goal but the Chairboys never looked like finding an equaliser. In fact it was the home side who thought they had extended their lead when Vardy was put through on goal to slip the ball past Bull, but the linesman had raised his flag early for offside. Davies made a routine save from Ibe as the search became more desperate.
Wycombe didn`t heed the warning and Mangan again put Vardy through on goal and this time he had stayed onside and coolly beat Bull with Lewis trailing in his wake and the rest of visitors` defence having gone AWOL. The goal ought to have been disallowed with Beeley clearly fouling Donnelly in the build-up. Ex-Chairboy Magno Vieira was given a ten-minute cameo and he was soon denied a goal by a brave block from Bull.
The final ten minutes were torture for the Wanderers. Rendell, in attempting to cross the ball into the box, mis-kicked the ball which rolled about a foot in front of him and the smile on his face was one of acute embarrassment. To witness a Wycombe player at such a low-ebb was a horrible, tragic site. Gladly, there were some shouts of encouragement from the 150-odd Blues fans behind the goal
A couple of minutes later Rendell crossed to the near post for Benyon, who from all of three-yards somehow directed the ball away from goal. It was an absolute sitter and you can`t help but feel that a year ago, in the yellow shirt of Torquay, he would have hit the net. Sadly he too is bereft of confidence and it is something that is clearly affecting the whole squad.
Rendell twice went close in time added-on with a hooked shot and header that both cleared the angle of post and crossbar. The visitors had flattered to deceive whilst Fleetwood deservedly celebrated their historic success. They have beaten Football League opponents for the first time in their history and Wycombe Wanderers name will be forever recorded as their victims.
Those final ten minutes led to supporters arguing amongst themselves with frustration at the current situation with spleneticisms aplenty. It was another dark day in an increasingly inglorious season. How long the current malaise will be allowed to continue is one for those in power but something has got to change and it has to come soon.
Ratings: Bull 7*, Foster 6, Johnson 6, Winfield 4 (Benyon 4), Basey 6, Donnelly 5, Lewis 5, Rowlands 6, (Ibe 5), Harris 5 (Rendell 4), Grant 5, Strevens 5.