Off-colour Torquay United make creaking Wycombe look good value for win
NO DOUBT Wycombe Wanderers' fans thought that their team's first home win of the season was great value-for-money, especially at a reduced admission charge of only £5 for adults and £1 for kids.
For Torquay United's travelling supporters just the coach fare or the petrol would have felt like a questionable investment.
But, although manager Martin Ling refused to countenance it as any kind of excuse, the fact is that United's display was clouded by the sickness bug which swept through their squad last weekend.
There had to be a reason why several players looked well off their usual pace, especially as this game came only four days after that astonishing fightback against Aldershot Town at Plainmoor.
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The Gulls looked a shadow of the team which had swept aside that 3-0 deficit and beaten the Shots 4-3.
Good luck to Wycombe. They worked hard and clearly tried their best for caretaker player-manager Gareth Ainsworth.
But at times in the first half, when United did manage to show glimpses of their best form, the Chairboys visibly creaked like a side which had gone eight games without a win.
If United could have taken the lead, who knows how the hosts might have reacted? But their finishing was disappointing, Billy Bodin firing three times off target from promising positions.
Ling had certainly picked an aggressive side, with winger Lloyd Macklin and striker Ryan Jarvis both recalled to the attack.
But, after failing to pick up Wycombe's experienced centre-back Gary Doherty for an early header just wide, United could not counter him when he gave the home side the lead in the 33rd minute.
After Joe Oastler had done well to cut out a dangerous cross by former Torquay striker Jo Kuffour, United only half-cleared the corner, Ainsworth chipped the loose ball back into the goalmouth where Doherty headed home from eight yards.
Nobody could accuse Ainsworth of not spending his day usefully.
Not content with managing the team and playing in it, pretty well to be fair, the 39-year-old former Preston, MK Dons and QPR winger acted as cheerleader to an increasingly vocal home crowd and then, at a charity do at the ground in the evening, gave it some stick as the lead singer for a local rock band.
But after geeing up the home fans after Doherty's goal, Ainsworth must have wondered what was in store when Rene Howe equalised in the 42nd minute.
Nathan Craig picked Howe out with a raking diagonal ball from left to right and how Howe then cut inside full-back Charlie Dunne before beating Spurs loanee 'keeper Jordan Archer with a low shot inside the near-post...1-1.
It was Howe's eighth goal in the first eleven games of the season.
On the stroke of half-time Aaron Downes appeared to handle, above his head, inside the penalty area, but referee Darren Drysdale waved play on, indicating that Doherty had nudged the United defender during the incident. Young striker Matt McClure had looked busy for Wycombe in the first half, but even his withdrawal because of injury during the interval did not dismay the home side.
Instead of seizing the initiative after Howe's equaliser, United faded badly.
Their first corner of the match didn't come until the 64th minute, Archer tipping Jarvis' 25-yarder behind.
But that moment came only two minutes after Wycombe had regained the lead.
Substitute Dean Morgan beat Oastler on the bye-line and crossed to the far post where young midfielder Josh Scowen – remember that name, he looked pretty useful – was unmarked as he headed home from close range...2-1.
With subs Danny Stevens, Niall Thompson and Ashley Yeoman all on, United did have a go in the closing stages.
But Dunne managed to block a goalbound volley by Howe and Oastler hit the side-netting with a left-foot shot from the edge of the area in stoppage time.
Ling's verdict was, as ever, to the point – "That's possibly our worst performance of the season," he said.
"We were second to the first balls and second to the second balls, and we got what we deserved – nothing."
Ainsworth, before nipping off to clear his throat for his evening 'gig', said: "Just before half-time isn't a nice time to concede, but we didn't let it affect us.
"I'm so pleased that we got this result, because it's nothing more than we deserved."