Christmas 2002 was a very eventful period in Wycombe Wanderers recent history. Manager Lawrie Sanchez had been involved in verbal punch-up with Wycombe supporters since September when he claimed the fans had booed the side whilst leading 1-0 in a home game with Crewe Alexandra. This was followed by the manager throwing his toys out of the pram after a 4-2 F.A. Cup defeat at home to Brentford. It came to a head when protests were made during a 0-0 draw away at Cheltenham Town on 21st December where banners were displayed in protest at Sanchez`s behaviour as manager and the impending sale of Sean Devine.
After a 2-1 defeat at Queens Park Rangers on Boxing Day Sanchez told BBC Three Counties Radio: ‘They don’t know the facts do they? People sit there and spout out, henpecked at home, come to football matches and then they think they know what they are doing. Too many people want to manage this club; I’m the manager of this club. If they want to support, come and support, if they want to come and give everyone a hard time then stay at home and be henpecked.’ The deal to sell Devine to Exeter City was finalised on 2nd January 2003 for an eventual fee of £50,000.
The Wanderers travelled to Northampton Town on Saturday 5th January and they went into the game at Sixfields having never beaten the Cobblers on their own patch in six previous visits. The defeat at Loftus Road has seen young striker Jonny Dixon make his first start for the Blues, replacing Craig Faulconbridge who had been taken ill. Dixon scored his first Wycombe goal in West London and two days later scored again in a 2-1 home defeat to Luton Town. The Wanderers had won just once in eight league games but the new-year brought better fortune with a 2-1 win over Bristol City at Adams Park, with Dixon winning a penalty that Steve Brown converted to win the game.
Despite the side’s indifferent form Brownie was putting in some of the performances of his career and with a visit to his former club he certainly had every incentive to show them what they were missing. Manager Lawrie Sanchez named an unchanged line-up for the game, with Northampton Town boss Kevan Broadhurst naming ex-Wanderer Chris Marsh and current Cobblers gaffer Ian Sampson in their starting XI.
The Wycombe side lined-up as follows:
Danny Senda- Andy Thomson – Roger Johnson – Mark Rogers
Michael Simpson – Keith Ryan – Dannie Bulman – Steve Brown
Jonny Dixon – Craig Faulconbridge
Northampton Town lined-up as follows: Glyn Thompson – Jeremy Gill, Ian Sampson, Richard Hope, Chris Marsh – Paul Harsley, Paul Trollope, Paul Reid, Chris Hargreaves – Marco Gabbiadini, Darryn Stamp
The first half began with both sides looking to attack and it took a great tackle from Steve Brown to prevent Paul Harsley`s run on goal. Marco Gabbiadini then flashed a header wide from Chris Hargreaves left-wing cross. Dannie Bulman created a chance for Craig Faulconbridge who shot straight at home goalkeeper Glyn Thompson. Thompson was on loan to the Cobblers from Tottenham Hotspur and he endured a tough afternoon. It began on eight minutes when Faulconbridge was played in down the left-flank and turned inside Ian Sampson before beating Richard Hope on the edge of the six-yard box. He pulled the ball back for Dixon who slid in to steer the ball inside the far post and make it 1-0. Dixon`s enthusiasm was to prove costly when he picked up a knock to his knee after 22 minutes and after handbags with Jeremy Gill led to a booking he was substituted and replaced by Stuart Roberts.
The home side put the Wanderers under increasing pressure and a fantastic last-ditch header from Andy Thomson at the far post denied Town an equaliser. The visitors defence was carved open again after 36 minutes but were relieved to see Gabbiadini screw his shot horribly wide when well placed in front of goal. On the stroke of half-time and against the run of play Wycombe doubled their lead. Michael Simpson`s free-kick on the left was whipped in low and despite several players running across the ball nobody got a touch and Thompson was left standing and watched the ball nestle in the far corner of the net.
If the 805 away fans in the crowd of 4,679 had enjoyed the first half then they were in for a pleasure overload in the second half. It was less than a minute old when Stuart Roberts won possession on the left-hand touchline before racing in on goal, cutting back and shooting hard and low into the net past Thompson. It was Roberts` first ever goal in the quarters and he celebrated by removing his shirt and waving it over his head. Referee Mike Ryan wasn`t going to let it fly and in the spirit of Steve Bennett showed the young Welshman a yellow card. The Blues were now in complete control and Thompson had to push over a shot from Senda. The Cobblers` knew it wasn`t going to be their day when substitute striker Derek Asamoah missed a sitter with twenty minutes remaining.
Brownie was running the show and he created the visitors fourth goal on 78 minutes. He won possession in his own half and ran to the half-way line before clipping the ball into Roberts who took one touch to control it, and another to take the ball into the area before shooting low across Thompson and into the far corner with his third touch. The same two players combined to make it 5-0 with eight minutes remaining. Brownie slid the ball out to Roberts on the right flank and allowed the overlapping Senda to take the ball on before receiving the ball back inside the area. He controlled with his left foot before cutting back and smashing the ball past Thompson and into the corner to make it 5-0 and take the match-ball with a fabulous hat-trick.
It was a historic day for the Wanderers who recorded their biggest ever away win in the Football League and one that still stands to this day. Northampton manager Kevan Broadhurst described the game as a “shambles” afterwards and his board must have agreed as they sacked him on the following Monday morning. It wasn`t all good news for the Chairboys either with Jonny Dixon ruled on until March with a knee injury.
Not only that but it is still the one and only time we’ve ever won at Northampton.