EFL Team In Focus: Wycombe Wanderers are top of League One

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What's happened to Wycombe this season

An unusual hat-trick from left-back Joe Jacobson, who scored from a free-kick then two goals direct from corners, saw Wycombe Wanderers to a 3-1 win over Lincoln.

Crucially, the result means the Chairboys are now top of League One – but what is the key to their good start? Gabriel Sutton (@_FootbalLab) investigates.

Couhig’s investment

It was an uncertain summer for Wycombe, who did not make their second signing until 19th July due to a period of transition off the field.

Rob Couhig, though, is set to take over and he loaned the club money to pull off the deals they wanted.

Manager Gareth Ainsworth has said that, having long being forced to settle for the fifth or sixth-listed target for a position for much of his time at Adams Park, he is now starting to get the first choices.

Paul Smyth and Rolando Aarons on loan, for example, are the types of deals that some of the division’s bigger-budgeted clubs would have likely been happy with.

This shows that not only are Wycombe now in a stronger position financially, the way they are perceived in the market is changing, too.

Evolving the style

When Wycombe won promotion from League Two in 2017-18, their whole game plan revolved around Adebayo Akinfenwa.

They knew that the target man’s unique physical shape bamboozled defenders at that level and they knew that his technical ability and hold-up play made him a serious threat, if the team played with a high-line, pumped a lot of balls into the box and generally maximized his strengths.

Since promotion to League One though, Ainsworth has used Akinfenwa cleverly rather than constantly.

Up against better-quality players, there are greater risks attached to playing Bayo’s game for 90 minutes every week and thus, we have seen Alex Samuel used more.

In the summer, some Wycombe fans were doubtful of Samuel – they questioned whether his finishing was good enough.

While those concerns remain valid - the forward is yet to hit the net - he has started four times this season and the team have won on each occasion.

Samuel leads the press with energy and vigour, whilst also showing the ability to either win free-kicks or hold the ball up for David Wheeler and Scott Kashket; the attacking trio have clicked very early on this season.

When opposing defenders are worn out from handling Samuel, that is when they will typically drop off a few yards, which means Akinfenwa can cause problems from the bench.

Keeping

Dominic Gape was highly-rated by most Wycombe fans last season.

The midfielder is disciplined and hardworking so, when the Chairboys operate with attack-minded wide forwards in a 4-3-3, they need a player like Gape to cover all bases.

The one-time Southampton graduate was linked with a move away when out of contract, so news of his two-year deal this summer was a huge boost.

Freeman finesse

In each of Wycombe’s first five league matches, Nick Freeman has come off the bench and, in most cases but especially the 3-2 and 4-3 victories over MK Dons and Southend respectively, he has made a key impact.

It seems surprising, therefore, that it took until the last day of August for him to earn a first league start of the campaign.

Freeman was the Chairboys’ main bright spark in an otherwise drab 0-0 draw at AFC Wimbledon, but his star performance came the following week against Lincoln.

The ex-Hemel Hempstead player loves to glide in from the left channel and create in central areas; his game does not rely too heavily on pace, so there is no reason why he cannot convert his early-season form as an impact player into key contributions from the outset.

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Favourable fixtures?

We should reserve judgement on the Buckinghamshire outfit somewhat for now, just because of the opposition they have beaten.

Beleaguered Bolton, struggling Southend and Lincoln’s lured-away leaders all came to Adams Park at arguably convenient times for Wycombe and while they beat newly-promoted MK Dons 3-2 in week three, their opponents managed 10 shots inside the penalty-area that day.

Additionally, the Chairboys drew even away encounters with limited Wimbledon and Bristol Rovers sides – so it is arguably only the 1-1 draw at Fleetwood and the encouraging performance on the Fylde cost, which is to date the only true barometer of their chances above the bottom half.

Walsall, we must remember, had 13 points after five games last season and still went down; while we are not suggesting the same will happen to Wycombe, it is important to recognize that there are 39 more rounds of fixtures to be played.

Ainsworth’s leadership

Gareth Ainsworth’s primary focus will be to lead the team up to 50 points as quickly as possible -although if they hit that mark early, Wild Thing’s mantra will likely be to ignore the bigger picture and focus on maintaining the humble, underdog spirit.

That was his stance in the 2014-15 promotion near-miss, when he was constantly playing down expectations and taking the pressure off his side – he is a fantastic psychologist from that perspective.

Ainsworth will be aware that October looks an especially difficult month for Wycombe, with Peterborough and Sunderland being the only home encounters combined with highly challenging trips to Ipswich, Blackpool and Rotherham.

It is important that, going into those games, the club remains focused on the aim of staying up so that, if they take a low return from that quintet of quarrels, it does not deflate the camp too much.

For now, all credit to the Chairboys.

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