Date: 1st January 2018 at 9:18pm
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Forest Green Rovers 1-2 Wycombe Wanderers

Wycombe Wanderers began 2018 with a win but with not much to spare as first half goals from Matt Bloomfield and Craig Mackail-Smith were eventually enough to see off the ten men of Forest Green 2-1 at the New Lawn.

Similar to Saturday’s match against Mansfield at Adams Park, a dominant first half performance from Wanderers was followed by a second half where Wycombe’s standards and quality dropped tenfold and they nearly paid the price.

Ainsworth made four changes from the Mansfield defeat with Sido Jombati and Paris Cowan-Hall injured. Also dropping to the bench as victims of squad rotation were Eberechi Eze and Nathan Tyson. Into the side came Will De Havilland, Matt Bloomfield, Nick Freeman and Mackail-Smith as Wycombe went with the standard 4-3-3 formation.

The first half was a complete farce as Forest Green Rovers totally lost the plot and allowed Wycombe to rip into them at will.

From the opening minutes it was clear that the hosts’ dodgy formation including a woefully shaped defensive back three could be exploited and it also soon became obvious there was another weak link in the shape of goalkeeper Brad Collins. The first evidence came in the opening minutes as he spilled a Nick Freeman shot but just about gathered the loose ball on the rebound.

Forest Green created just two chances in the entire first half and both in the opening ten minutes – first a Scott Laird header that was cleared comfortably off the line by the head of Mackail-Smith and then a shot from Cameron Wishart on the left hand side of the box which was parried away by Scott Brown from a Cristian Doidge pass.

That was about it for the hosts until the interval in terms of football, notwithstanding their various comedic contributions that would follow, as De Havilland and Scarr did a good job of keeping the hosts’ top goalscorer Doidge quiet.

Wycombe almost took the lead after ten minutes and it was the same combination as the opening goal against Mansfield with Gape crossing for Akinfenwa but the striker could only help the ball across goal rather than inside the post. Bloomfield in a more advanced position was the next to find a pocket of space and Collins parried his shot behind when it may have been going wide anyway.

Bloomfield again had a shot from the resulting corner which was inexplicably pushed back into the six yard box by Collins to the grateful Mackail-Smith who lashed it home but was deemed offside by the linesman.

The chances continued to come with Akinfenwa again wasteful at the back post before Saunders forced Collins into making a ‘save for the cameras’ from the follow up with a curling effort from distance.

Freeman had already had a rising shot into the side netting as his neat footwork was causing problems for the home defence and he almost created a goal for Bloomfield as his cross struck the outstretched leg of the Wycombe number 10 but the ball clipped the top of the crossbar with Collins flapping.

It was one way traffic and little surprise when Bloomfield gave the Chairboys the lead after 25 minutes. Again Freeman was the architect and his cross was defended poorly by Scott Laird who couldn’t clear his lines allowing Bloomfield to clip home the loose ball with ease from 10 yards. Bloomfield was in the thick of the action and nearly doubled the lead soon after on the half hour mark when his driven effort across goal went narrowly wide.

Forest Green looked all over the place with their narrow three man backline and had lost all composure. It wasn’t just a case of butter fingers for goalkeeper Collins who incredibly landed five, yes FIVE consecutive kicks in the stands – it was laughable stuff and the home fans were jeering in disapproval. Someone then said Collins was on loan from Chelsea and you had to wonder if there was something in the Gloucestershire air and whether it was really happening! Even stranger was Collins attempting to blame his teammates for his inaccuracies.

As if to join the party at the circus, Iasiah Osbourne was cautioned for a crude foul on O’Nien and soon after Charlie Cooper was sent off after losing possession to O’Nien and deciding to stamp on the back of the Wycombe midfielder in retaliation as he laid on the ground. It was a disgraceful act and after consulting with his linesman referee Anthony Coggins showed the midfielder a straight red card.

For some reason Forest Green manager Mark Cooper decided to angrily contest the decision, presumably because he was his father rather than for any other good reason, and he was immediately sent to the stands by referee Coggins for doing so. As if to add further to the circus, the home supporters loudly booed both Cooper Junior from the field and Cooper Senior as he made his way up the small main stand. They were clearly unimpressed and you could understand why. Sam Saunders was also yellow carded in the aftermath for his vociferous protests at the challenge.

The farcical nature of the Forest Green collapse had handed total control to Wanderers and Freeman was again denied before the lead was doubled after 42 minutes. Again it was inexplicable defending as a woeful Saunders corner was allowed to make its way through to Akinfenwa who held it up and Mackail-Smith lashed home the loose ball for 2-0.

Half time arrived with Wycombe in complete control and most of the healthy 716 away supporters discussing an ideal opportunity to improve goal difference against a side in crisis.

What followed was a dreadful and complacent second half where Wycombe lost all composure and with it handed the impetus back to the ten men of Forest Green.

Passes were consistently misplaced, possession was surrendered all too easily and the chances dried up as a result. The first bit of bad news arrived when Gape landed awkwardly and he was replaced by the returning Marcus Bean filling in at right back. Just prior to the hour mark Bloomfield was then brought off with Nathan Tyson entering the field.

Forest Green made another change with Jack Fitzwater replacing Scott Laird before Bean had a volley from distance, which despite being well wide was the first thing the Wycombe fans had any interest in as a dour second half progressed.

That being said, Forest Green had barely threatened at all until 65 minutes when De Havilland was correctly yellow carded for cynically wiping out Doidge on the spin and Brown had to be alert from the resulting free kick.

A couple of minutes later and Forest Green were unbelievably back in the game when a cross wasn`t cleared convincingly and substitute Fitzwater showed great composure and skill to shift the ball onto his left foot before he sent a curling effort into the top corner giving Brown no chance.

Now the hosts scented blood and Jordan Stevens sent a shot comfortably wide from distance. The home crowd were up and Wycombe found themselves holding on, and timewasting, against ten men.

Wycombe should not have been in this situation with both profligacy and complacency to blame – mentality will also be questioned as it was exactly the same against Mansfield two days prior. Ainsworth replaced Mackail-Smith with Eze on 74 minutes and it looked a risky move with Tyson having just picked up an injury in front of the away supporters on the west terrace. Tyson battled on gamely but it was almost like 10 vs 10 until Tyson managed to run off his knock towards the end.

Akinfenwa couldn’t get his neck muscles in place from a Freeman cross and subsequently sent his header well wide and Eze sent a free kick too high before the real chance to kill off the game came after 82 minutes. It was Tyson regaining possession and Saunders had options as he bore down on goal but Collins did well to parry his effort wide with Eze in space to his left. The space afforded on the counter attack was now creating opportunities for Wycombe and Collins pushed behind another low effort this time from Tyson.

Six minutes were added for all of Wycombe’s timewasting and O’Nien was correctly booked for cynically stopping a Forest Green counter attack. The inevitable aerial onslaught followed but in truth an equalising opportunity never arrived as Wanderers’ defence managed to stand up and clear the danger well.

This was a real tale of two halves, again, with Wycombe in complete control and making this match far harder than it should have been. That said, three points on the road are very welcome, ends a run of six winless games away from home and moves Wycombe into fourth place in the table.

Ratings: Brown (6), Gape (6) (Bean 52′ 6), De Havilland (6), Scarr (7), Jacobson (6), O’Nien (7), Bloomfield (7*) (Tyson 59′ 6), Saunders (6), Mackail-Smith (6) (Eze 74′ 6), Akinfenwa (6), Freeman (7)