Wycombe Wanderers conspired to throw away a half-time lead as they were beaten 2-1 by Southend United at Adams Park. The hosts enjoyed the better of the contest but were made to pay for failing to take their chances as the Shrimpers snatched a late winner to steal all three points.
Manager Gareth Ainsworth made two changes to the side which had suffered back-to-back defeats to Bradford City and Bristol Rovers. Midfielder Matt Spring was handed a rare start in place of defender Marvin McCoy who dropped to the bench, and that saw Michael Harriman switch to right-back. Dean Morgan was also recalled in preference to Jo Kuffour, who joined McCoy on the bench.
The home side started on the front foot with Morgan pulling a shot across the face of goal after four minutes and it wasn’t long before he made the breakthrough. A fine move saw Sam Wood play the ball into Matt McClure inside the box and he laid it back for Morgan to slot a right-footed shot into the bottom right-hand corner of the net, giving visiting goalkeeper Paul Smith no chance.
McClure screwed a left-footed shot high and wide after 12 minutes before the visitors had a goal chalked off for offside when striker Britt Assombalonga tapped home from close range after being set-up by strike partner Barry Corr.
The Blues won a host of corners but were unable to make the most of Matt Spring’s delivery with Dave Winfield and Charles Dunne both failing to hit the target. Assombalonga looked a threat for the visitors and he did well to cut inside Winfield from the right but he choked his shot and Wanderers goalkeeper Jordan Archer made a routine save.
Winger Joel Grant then wasted another chance after some neat interplay on the edge of the box only to fire wide when he should have at least hit the target. That was it for the first half and the Chairboys went into the break with a narrow but deserved advantage.
Sadly the second half was a different story as the Shrimpers began to find some cutting edge. Morgan, who was his usual enigmatic self, blazed over after getting the better of defender Luke Prosser before the hosts were pegged back on 53 minutes. Kevan Hurst’s left-wing corner was headed down by defender Ryan Cresswell and Corr turned the ball past Archer from inside the six-yard box.
It was hard luck on the Blues and they suffered more frustration just three minutes later when Sam Wood laid the ball into McClure inside the box and his powerful left-footed shot smashed Prosser in the face to save an almost certain goal.
Within two minutes it was the Wanderers’ turn to receive a let-off when former loanee Anthony Straker hit a drive from fully 30-yards which crashed against the top of the crossbar with Archer rooted to the spot. The home defence now looked vulnerable and Archer had to pull off a smart save, diving low to his left to push away a shot from Corr.
Corr was then given a free header from another Hurst corner and only Archer prevented him from giving the visitors the lead. The contest was rather scrappy at times with the hosts conceding possession cheaply on a numbers of occasions, and when they did hold onto it, they were found wanting with the final ball.
With a quarter of an hour remaining the Chairboys missed a gilt-edged opportunity when Grant played in Morgan on the right and he headed the ball into the path of Wood who only had Smith to beat from 15 yards but fired his left-footed half-volley wide of the post.
Yet another chance went begging with six minutes remaining when Spring’s cross from the right was flicked on by McClure but substitute Jo Kuffour wasn’t able to get a touch as the ball bounced agonisingly across the face of the goal and the danger was cleared.
Sixty seconds later and the Shrimpers grabbed the winner. Assombalonga skipped past the most token of challenges from Grant to run into the box and fire a low right-footed shot into the bottom left-hand corner, past an unsighted Archer, from 12 yards.
Grant was soon replaced by Bruno Andrade but it was all too-little, too-late by then. McClure had again gone close moments earlier when Smith did well to get down low to his right to push his shot away for a corner. The Blues searched in vain for an equaliser during the four minutes of injury-time before the final whistle signaled a third successive defeat.
The performance was that of a mid-table side, with both positives and negatives, and was worthy of at least a share of the spoils. The biggest negative is of course the fact that the team was again unable to do so, repeating the naïveté of the home defeat to Exeter City on New Year’s Day.
Any hopes of a late play-off challenge can be banished to the world of fantasy and the sooner that magic 50-point marker is hit, the more relaxed supporters can become and then the hope will be that this campaign can be seen as a springboard for a concerted play-off tilt next season.
Ratings: Archer 6, Harriman 6, Stewart 8*, Winfield 6, Dunne 6, Grant 5 (Andrade N/A), Spring 6, Lewis 6, Wood 6, Morgan 6 (Kuffour N/A), McClure 6.