Date: 22nd November 2008 at 8:32pm
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Wycombe Wanderers reclaimed top spot in League Two after a hard fought 4-2 victory over Port Vale at Adams Park.

Wycombe manager Peter Taylor made one change from the side which defeated Bradford City last weekend, giving on-loan starlet Angelo Balanta his first start in place of Lewwis Spence.

The Blues lined up in a 4-4-2 formation as follows:


Hunt McCracken Williamson Woodman

Zebroski Mousinho Holt Phillips

Harrold Balanta

Subs: Young Johnson Spence Moussa Vieira

When the first half started, it didn’t take very long for Wycombe and their supporters to realise that they had a tough game on their hands this afternoon.

The Wanderers have generally played with three central midfielders in a 4-5-1 / 4-3-3 formation so far this season, but following the impressive performance in the second half of last week’s Bradford game, when Angelo Balanta came on to play alongside Matt Harrold in a more traditional 4-4-2, manager Taylor decided to start with that formation today against Vale.

The Valiants, on the other hand, packed out the midfield and as a result had far more of the possession in the first half. The Vale players were full of running and also seemed quicker to the ball, whereas the Blues’ defence did not look quite as assured as usual, perhaps due to central midfield being a man down.

The first chance of the half fell to Vale in the 7th minute. A cross from the left found Simon Richman unmarked on the edge of the box, but he could only send his volley wide when he really should have done better.

Two minutes later Wycombe had their first chance when a powerful shot from Chris Zebroski cleared the crossbar.

Wycombe’s opening goal came in the 22nd minute. Some neat play between Phillips, Harrold and Balanta culminated in the referee adjudging that Vale’s David Howland had fouled the on-loan striker in the box. Harrold put the resulting penalty away convincingly, firing it firmly into the bottom right corner.

After 35 minutes Wycombe fans had their hearts in their mouths as Scott Shearer came out for a cross and totally missed the ball, creating a goalmouth scramble which eventually saw Dave McCracken clear the danger.

Vale continued to have more of the ball, but it was Wycombe who came to life just before the break. Firstly Balanta fired a fierce 20 yard shot wide of the post after 45 minutes, before Zebroski scored the second goal of the game during injury time.

Zebroski’s goal was a beauty. Balanta showed some great footwork on the right touchline before slipping a perfectly weighted pass through to Zebroski who cleverly beat his marker before racing towards goal and coolly placing it past the on-rushing Vale keeper Joe Anyon.

Port Vale no doubt considered themselves unfortunate to go in at half time two goals behind.

As the second half began you got the feeling that Port Vale felt they could still take something from this game and in the 48th minute the referee gave them a helping hand.

Matty Phillips was adjudged to have fouled Richman in the box. From the crowd’s point of view Phillips didn’t seem to have touched the Vale player and if he had, it looked outside the box anyway. Marc Richards sent the resulting penalty into the same corner as Matt Harrold had earlier.

Vale pressed in search of an equaliser, but it was Wycombe who scored the next goal. In the 65th minute, a cross from the right appeared to have struck a Vale defender’s arm and as the crowd yelled for a penalty Chris Zebroski reacted brilliantly and pounced on the loose ball to fire home his second goal of the game.

Any feelings of relief among the home crowd were short-lived however, as Vale promptly went up the other end and scored their second of the game a minute later. Sloppy defending allowed the Valiants to carve out an opening which Scott Brown dispatched with aplomb from the edge of the box, past a fairly static Scott Shearer.

At 3-2 the game could have gone either way and Peter Taylor acted to shore-up the Wycombe side by bringing on Franck Moussa for Matty Phillips. Moussa played in the center of midfield alongside Holt and Mousinho, with Balanta moving to the left in a 4-5-1 formation.

The decisive goal was scored by Matt Harrold in the 82nd minute. Harrold had again played the target man role superbly all game, holding the ball up well and showing some skillful footwork on occasion as well. He made the goal for himself, taking a Shearer clearance and turning his marker before advancing on goal and firing in Wycombe’s fourth of the day from just outside the box whilst under pressure.

Wycombe could have had even more goals in the end.

Moussa was one on one with the keeper but couldn’t make it count, whilst late substitute Spence had a shot pushed onto the post in the final minute, when he really should have passed it to the unmarked Zebroski who would have tapped in a well deserved hat-trick.

The game finished with a scoreline which suggested a more comfortable win for Wycombe than was actually the case.

Port Vale looked a very useful side going forward, but with a poor defence. It was easy to see why they have caused so many sides problems on their travels this season.

Wycombe conceded 2 goals in a league game for the first time this season, but on the other hand scored an almost unheard of 4 goals themselves. This is the trade-off. If we play 4-4-2 we won’t be so solid at the back, but we will make more chances to score goals ourselves.

Darlington’s draw at Brentford puts Wycombe back at the top of the table and still unbeaten after 16 league games. On top of that, most games at Adams Park this season have been a lot more entertaining than they’ve been since the days of John Gorman. Let’s just hope we can keep it going all season this time.

Special Mentions

Angelo Balanta
Watching some of his close-control is worth the entrance fee alone.

Matt Harrold
Strong, hard working and surprisingly skillful for a big man, he showed great composure for his 2nd goal.

Man Of The Match

Chris Zebroski
Worked tirelessly as usual, showed better ball control today and took both his goals really well.