Are you ready to start this dance again? The parallels to our great escape in 1996/97 become more apparent with each away defeat. Back then manager John Gregory`s side didn`t lose a single home game after Boxing Day but had to wait until April to win away. With the fixture list and recent form suggesting we might see a repeat, a trip to Sheffield for our first ever league clash with the Blades at Bramall Lane looks destined to end in disappointment.
That would certainly be an understatement when describing our last away day at Brentford. The same could be said for our only previous visit to Bramall Lane back in October 2002 for a second round League Cup tie.
Three weeks earlier manager Lawrie Sanchez had verbally attacked fans for booing the team whilst they were leading Crewe Alexandra 1-0 in a league game at Adams Park. The visitors turned that scoreline around to win 2-1 and the club was soon embroiled in something of an aesthetic debate over style of play.
“Blues put to the sword in the steel City”
Approximately 250 Tommy Tick-Offs took the Tuesday off work to travel up the M1 from the Chair Metropolis to see the latest experiment in hoof-ball. Martin Taylor was named between the sticks again whilst Danny Senda, Chris Vinnicombe, Andy Thomson, Paul McCarthy and Roger Johnson made up a back five.
Dannie Bulman and Michael Simpson were partnered in the middle of the park with Darren Currie and Stuart Roberts on the right and left respectively. Craig Faulconbridge ploughed a lone furrow in attack.
Just 4,389 fans were in attendance and they watched the home side dominate the first 45 minutes. Striker Michael Boulding gave the hosts a 14th minute lead and they really should have added to their tally before the break. Midfielder Michael Brown did double their advantage three minutes after the break with a low shot from eight yards.
Sanchez made a triple substitution on the hour with Steve Brown, Sean Devine and Richard Harris replacing Currie, Roberts and Johnson. It made precious little difference with Dannie Bulman somehow getting away with a blatant foul on Michael Tonge inside the penalty area just two minutes later. Shortly afterwards Devine was inches away from getting a touch on Thomson`s header across goal.
With a quarter of an hour remaining striker Peter Ndlovu intercepted a dreadful pass from Thomson and Taylor had to race off his line only to handle the ball outside his area. He was sent off to start the showers early and Brownie donned the gloves again. He was beaten with five minutes left to play when midfielder Nick Montgomery thumped home.
A minute later Brown notched his second of the evening with his shot finding the net via the underside of the crossbar. McCarthy headed home a consolation goal on ninety minutes from a Simmo free-kick but by that stage the away fans were already being taken away in strait-jackets whilst gibbering inanely.
“Non-league dreams and nightmares”
As this article is so short I have chosen to look back at our four most recent matches played on the same date – February 11. The first came in 1989 when manager Jim Kelman was leading the Blues on something of a fairytale journey which promised a league and cup double. They welcomed Stafford Rangers to Loakes Park looking to make it a dozen matches unbeaten in all competitions.
The side did so comfortably with a thumping 6-1 victory. Striker Mark West`s hat-trick was then matched by American front-man John Kerr. I wonder who won the fight for the match ball after the game. Over 2,000 fans watched the game and it wasn`t long before double that figure were in attendance for a 1-0 win over Kidderminster Harriers.
Sadly defeat on Hyde United`s plastic monstrosity of a pitch (bitter? us?) led to a quarter-final exit in the F.A. Trophy and a home defeat to Kettering Town in front of almost 5,000 fans meant the side would finish 4th in the Conference table. Interestingly the club signed Barnet striker Nicky Evans for a record fee of £32,000 to help recover from the disappointment of missing out on Wembley.
In 1992 the Wanderers travelled down to the Incest Fields for a Bob Lord Trophy semi-final first leg tie with those Somerset deviants Yeovil Town. The Tuesday evening clash proved to be a non-descript affair which ended goal-less and the away fans escaped with just the sound of squealing swineherds ringing in their ears as they sped up the A303.
“The ending of the fairytale”
Under the guidance of the magician that is Martin O`Neill the club was chasing promotion to the second tier of English football in 1995. The side travelled to Salop on a wet afternoon which saw defender Terry Howard given his debut after being sacked in spectacular fashion by previous club Leyton Orient.
Captain Glyn Creaser also returned to the side to make only his third appearance of the season as a second half substitute for midfielder Gary Patterson, who was facing the club he had left just ten weeks previously.
The visitors, less than resplendent in their green and white tea-towel change kit, soon found themselves trailing when striker Dean Spink played a neat one-two with Ian Stevens to dissect the Chairboys defence and smash the ball past Paul Hyde.
They recovered to level early in the second half. Jason Cousins` free-kick into the box was headed back by Terry Evans and Simon Stapleton hit a sweet right-footed shot into corner of the net.
Parity didn`t last long as the hosts restored their advantage when Spink`s shot hit the inside of the post and bounced out for midfielder Mickey Brown to shoot low into the bottom corner.
As was often the case under O`Neill the team fought back and equalised again. Mickey Bell played the ball down the inside-left channel for Simon Garner and he showed all his experience to get goal-side of Stevens and get into the box before going down under his clumsy challenge.
O`Neill recalled afterwards that he didn`t want striker Miguel De Souza to take the resultant penalty but he was the only one who stepped up and coolly sent home goalkeeper Paul Edwards the wrong way to make it 2-2 and earn the Wanderers an important away point.
It was De Souza`s fourth goal in just his third game for the club following his £80,000 transfer from Birmingham City. Sadly he would only feature in three more games before a training ground injury sidelined him for the rest of the season.
The side went on an eight game winless run which ultimately led to the club missing out on the play-offs and O`Neill left for Norwich City in the summer.
“Chairboys come back to hold the Stags”
The last time we played on February 11 was in 2006 when the Wanderers overturned a two-goal deficit to draw 2-2 with Mansfield Town at Adams Park. Manager John Gorman wasn`t at the game as he looking after his ill wife Myra so Keith Ryan and Steve Brown took temporary charge.
Frank Talia returned in goal after Matt Duke was recalled from his loan by Hull City. Danny Senda also returned after recovering from an ankle injury whilst Dean Bowditch and Jermaine Easter made their full home debuts following their recent arrivals. Russell Martin and Stefan Oakes dropped to the bench.
Bowditch thought he had scored his first goal for the club but his early effort was chalked off for offside. Defender Jon-Olav Hjelde looped a header over Talia and into the net to put the visitors ahead after 27 minutes and Richard Barker scored direct from a free-kick just six minutes later to leave the hosts up against it.
Striker Tommy Mooney pulled a goal back nine minutes after the break when he headed home Kevin Betsy`s right-wing cross. Easter almost levelled on 63 minutes when his shot from six-yards crashed against the crossbar. With 13 minutes remaining the Chairboys` levelled when Oakes` deflected shot from the edge of the box found the bottom corner of the net.
“All that`s left are memories”