Wycombe Wanderers recorded back-to-back victories with a thoroughly deserved 3-0 win over ten-man Burton Albion at Adams Park.
The Chairboys went into the clash looking to build upon their surprise 3-2 win at Rotherham United in midweek and took the lead after just 12 minutes when striker Matt McClure tapped home from close-range.
The Brewers went on to dominate the rest of the first half but were unable to find a goal and the hosts came out after the break to totally dominate the contest.
The visitors had already survived one penalty appeal before McClure was tripped by Zander Diamond inside the box and referee Mr D Webb pointed to the spot and sent the defender off for an early shower. Winger Joel Grant coolly stroked home the resulting penalty.
McClure then wrapped things up with his second of the afternoon when he smashed home the re-bound after visiting goalkeeper Dean Lyness had blocked Grant’s close-range header from full-back Sam Wood’s sumptuous left-wing cross.
The Wanderers could, perhaps should, have won by more but the most important thing was claiming three precious points which take the side up to the dizzy heights of 19th place in the League Two table.
It was a cold, wet and windy afternoon in the Chair Metropolis and most of the 3,191 hardy souls who braved the conditions were rewarded with a second half display to warm the cockles of even the most curmudgeonly Chairboy (and girl!).
The opening ten minutes were rather quiet as both sides sized each other up. It was ex-Wanderers Chris Palmer who registered the first shot on target in the 10th minute but his effort was well held by Jordan Archer in the home goal.
The deadlock was broken just two minutes later when McClure seemed to hang in the air to head the ball down for Grant. His low shot was parried by Lyness and McClure showed a goalscorers instinct to tuck home the rebound from all of three yards.
It was the perfect start for the home side and they were unlucky not to have doubled their advantage after 21 minutes when Andrade robbed the anonymous Jacques Maghoma of possession and then hit a low shot that crashed against the foot of the post.
The early goal had given the Wanderers something to protect and they were forced to do so as the ball seemed to take on the qualities of a hot potato. Albion were having no such trouble and went on to dominate possession.
They were frustrated however by a makeshift Blues’ defence which adopted a ‘thou shall not pass’ philosophy. The leader was Dave Winfield who dealt with the strike-partnership of Billy Kee and brick outhouse Calvin Zola so well that they were throwing their arms around well before the break and then didn’t bother even coming out again after it.
Archer was called upon to make a fine save when he dived low to his right to push away a low skidding shot from Billy Kee on 27 minutes and eight minutes later he had to get down low again to keep out Palmer’s 25-yard free-kick.
It would be fair to say that the first half was far from a classic and given the Brewers’ midfield dominance it seemed like the second half would be a real backs-to-the-wall job. The beauty of football however is that it is never that predictable.
Less than five minutes into the second half the home side were left aghast after defender Nathan Stanton bundled into the back of Dean Morgan inside the area but Mr Webb inexplicably waved play-on. The official’s inexplicability would increase as the afternoon wore on.
Morgan had made a lively start to the second half having tested Lyness with a low shot and was unlucky to see his powerful strike from a tight angle smash against the outside of the post after 54 minutes.
It was one-way traffic and with 56 minutes played the Chairboys crafted a wonderful one-touch, first-time passing move from their own half which ended with Morgan playing McClure through in the area. Diamond tripped the striker just as he was about to pull the trigger to concede a penalty.
Despite vociferous protests from the visitors, Diamond was shown a straight red card and Grant retained his composure to tuck the spot-kick into the bottom left-hand corner, sending Lyness the wrong way.
Six minutes later and the three points were as good as wrapped up. Another neat passing move saw the ball played out to Wood on the left and he clipped over a luxurious cross for Grant, whose header was blocked by Lyness at point-blank range.
The rebound fell to the feet of McClure and he blasted the ball into the back of the net from eight yards. That made it 3-0 but the scoreline could have been double that by the finish. McClure almost notched a hat-trick when he met Jesse Kewley-Graham’s cross with a powerful header that flew inches the wrong side of the right-hand upright.
There were flashes of skill from several players as they were clearly enjoying themselves in the rain. Morgan was again denied a penalty when he appeared to have been up-ended in the area by defender Damien McCrory but Mr Webb was having none of it.
Loanee Ade Azeez and Junior Morais were both thrown into the action and combined to almost add a fourth goal a minute from time but Lyness blocked the latter’s shot. Youngster Georges Ehui then made his debut for the Blues as a late substitute.
2012 hasn’t brought much to shout about on the pitch for Blues fans but this must go down as one of the most encouraging displays of the year. The side hasn’t dominated a half like this since playing Leyton Orient off the park back in March.
The difference is, this team has been cobbled together due to a lengthy injury list and a manager taking charge for just the fourth time since being appointed on a permanent basis. Most importantly, after the disgraceful performance against AFC Wimbledon, we have a team playing for each other.
Dave Winfield was a colossus at the back. Sam Wood was superb at left-back. Josh Scowen’s energy and indefatigability was crucial and Jesse Kewley-Graham’s composure alongside him made for an encouraging partnership, particularly in the second half.
Joel Grant’s undoubted skill was again to the fore but Matt McClure’s second brace in the space of four days was the highlight. He finally looks comfortable in his own skin and has now tormented two central defensive partnerships in a row. His goals could prove to be vital this season as the club looks to consolidate its place in the Football League.
Ratings: Archer 6, Lewis 6, Wood 7, Johnson 6, Winfield 7, Andrade 6, Scowen 7 (Ehui 89, N/A), Kewley-Graham 6, Grant 7 (Azeez 76 N/A), Morgan 6, McClure 8* (Morais 85, N/A).