Wycombe Wanderers recorded a third successive win after beating Bristol Rovers 2-0 in a re-arranged League Two fixture at Adams Park.
Goals in either half from winger Joel Grant and player / boss Gareth Ainsworth sealed three more points to give the hosts a deserved victory. The visitors ended the game with ten men after midfielder Matt Lund was sent off for a lunge on Stuart Lewis.
It was a miserable return to the Chair Metropolis for the Pirates who arrived with a huge chip on their shoulders following the abandonment of the game back in August. Heavy rain and lightning had seen referee Mr Andy Davies call the game off after 67 minutes with Rovers leading 3-1.
Around 30-40 of the 487 strong away contingent donned illuminous ‘high-viz’ jackets in an attempt to mock the original decision but they left feeling as glum as the weather as their side finished well beaten by the end.
Ainsworth made just the one change to the starting line-up with Charles Dunne coming in to play at right-back. Stuart Lewis returned to the middle of the park with midfielder Jesse Kewley-Graham dropping to the bench. He was joined there by defender Marvin McCoy, who made a welcome return to the squad.
On a bitterly cold December afternoon it took a few minutes for the game to come to life and it was the hosts who had the first attempt at goal on seven minutes but striker Matt McClure screwed his shot wide of the far post.
Four minutes later the deadlock was broken in fine style by the Chairboys. Striker Dean Morgan received the ball inside his own half with his back to goal but showed some sublime skill to control it with his chest before turning sharply and leaving two opponents for dead.
Morgan then played the ball into the feet of Joel Grant, who ran at the heart of the Rovers defence, and with Matt McClure’s presence proving to be a vital distraction, he twisted and turned inside the box before driving low past visiting goalkeeper Sam Walker and into the net.
The hosts went on to enjoy the better of the first half and perhaps should have extended their lead before the break. Morgan again showed off his skills to drive in a low, hard cross from the left which Rovers struggled to clear before Charles Dunne fired the loose ball wide from close-range.
Dunne thumped a 30-yard free-kick into the arms of Walker before Morgan almost conjured up a beauty as his shot from 25-yards curled inches past the left-hand upright. Having been second best for twenty minutes the Pirates did finally showed some attacking intent.
Michael Smith hit a powerful shot into the arms of Jordan Archer and striker David Clarkson really ought to have hit the target when he headed Smith’s right-wing cross over the bar from eight yards. Danny Woodards was then rightfully booked after catching Josh Scowen with a nasty tackle.
Joel Grant was proving to be a real threat and he flashed a volley over the bar from Scowen’s corner on the half hour. Seven minutes later he was literally kicked out of the game. First Lund and then Clarkson kicked him up in the air and were both booked.
The Wanderers went into the interval with a slender advantage but Grant had to come off after suffering from double vision and he was replaced by Ainsworth. Rovers boss Mark McGhee certainly got into his side at half-time and they came out to apply plenty of early pressure.
They should have been celebrating an equaliser inside the first 70 seconds of the second half as Clarkson flicked the ball on for Smith, who had only Archer to beat, but he failed to get enough power in his shot and the Blues’ stopper was able to make a crucial save.
Striker Tom Eaves flashed a header wide from Clarkson’s left-wing cross moments later. The visitors won a succession of corners which were whipped in dangerously by full-back Jim Paterson but the home side defended superbly lead by Dave Winfield and Leon Johnson.
Two promising counter attacks from the Chairboys had already been snuffed out, but they got it right the third time when Sam Wood crossed from the left and Lund could only flick the ball on for Ainsworth, who flew through the air to send a diving header past Walker from six yards.
The goal came at the perfect time for the hosts and it gave them a two-goal cushion which they never looked like relinquishing. Referee Mr David Coote put in an eccentric display allowing several challenges from the visitors to go unpunished in the second half after being officious in the first.
Loan striker Ade Azeez was thrown into the action for Matt McClure with just under a quarter of an hour remaining and he almost grabbed a goal on 82 minutes. Ainsworth sent over a cross from the right which Azeez met on the half-volley but could only direct into the midriff of Walker.
The frustration was too much for Lund who scythed down Lewis four minutes into injury-time to receive a second yellow card and get sent to the showers early. It led to a melee in the middle of the pitch but no further cards were shown.
The team is now very much playing in manager Gareth Ainsworth’s image. There is plenty of skill and finesse, most notably from Joel Grant and Dean Morgan, but the level of commitment and fitness shows a marked improvement on that witnessed when the sides last met in August.
The team are clearly playing with confidence, but perhaps the greatest achievement is that they are playing as a team. They are now reaping the rewards of their hard work with three straight victories and the Chairboys (and girls) who have remained loyal in these tough times have been rewarded with some fine entertainment.
Next up are two fixtures, away to Yeovil Town in the Football League Trophy in midweek, and then a home clash with Morecambe in League Two next weekend. Two more victories and the excitement factor at Adams Park will be cranked up a couple more notches.
Ratings: Archer 7, Dunne 6, Johnson 7, Winfield 7, Wood 6, Grant 8 (Ainsworth 7), Lewis 7, Scowen 7, Andrade 6, McClure 6 (Azeez N/A), Morgan 8*