For fans of League 2 Wycombe, delight at a Supporters Trust takeover of the club in the summer has been tempered by the financial realities of off field cost cutting (including the sale of last season’s top goal-scorer, the mercurial Stuart Beavon) and a rocky start to the season on pitch, with 2 defeats from the opening 3 games.
It’s made for the most difficult period of manager Gary Waddock’s spell at Adams Park thus far, and for the first time supporters are more than arguably turning against the man who has led Wanderers to 2 relegations and a promotion in 3 rollercoaster years.
Expectations of another instant return to League 1 in Wycombe’s 125th anniversary season, and a continuation of the yo-yo like fortunes of the club are not as great as in previous years. Supporters have been made well aware of the many financial challenges that lie ahead, and the difficulty of breaking even in times of recession, which even in boom years has proved an often insurmountable challenge at Football League level. With Beavon moving on to pastures new at Preston North End, hopes of promotion have been further dashed, and it would be fair to say that a mid table finish is the realistic ambition now.
But whether such a finish will be enough for Waddock remains to be seen. Fans are increasingly sceptical of what is seen by some as a regime of an “all talk and no walk” mentality, poor signings, lack of motivation, and tactical ineptitude. Certainly Waddock appears to have hit a ceiling as far as League 1 is concerned – 4 clean sheets in the last 57 matches tells its own story – and complaints over the poor quality of signings have clear merits. Last summer’s rather rag tag group including the likes John Halls, Ben Harding and James Tunnicliffe was criticised throughout a disastrous campaign which included a 6-0 home defeat to Huddersfield (live on Sky), a 5-2 thrashing at Brentford, and a 4-0 humbling at fellow strugglers and eventually relegated Chesterfield. Waddock’s motivational skills came under fire as promises of improved displays and bouncebackability were followed by a ubiquitous disappointing display, more often than not accompanied by a defensive collapse. Many of these performances might have resulted in managerial sackings at other clubs, but Gary Waddock finds himself in somewhat of a unique position.
Former owner Steve Hayes, seemingly occupied with the sale of the club, apparently had neither the means nor the wherewithal to dismiss Waddock and therefore the 50 year old remains in post and for some, living on borrowed time. Poor displays in this season’s 2 league defeats (and an abandoned match at home to Bristol Rovers) have done little to allay these fears, and unhappiness at certain summer signings has resulted in a growing number of supporters calling for change. Waddock is hasn’t been under this sort of pressure since his exit from QPR in September 2006.
But there is cause for some optimism. Not least with Waddock’s record as a League 2 manager, which certainly at Wycombe is impressive. Leading the side to an instant promotion in 2010/2011 was no mean feat, especially considering the intense competition between the Chairboys and Shrewsbury Town, who took the fight right to the final game of that memorable season. Before he left Aldershot to take over at Adams Park, Waddock had left the Hampshire side in 6th position after consolidating the year before. It’s clear that he feels at home at this level, and it’s a division he’ll know well. There’s certainly no denying that Gary Waddock is a proven League 2 manager.
One idea put forward by supporters (some of whom are anti Waddock) is that former assistant manager Martin Kuhl was key to the club’s successes and his absence is one of the reasons for the blues’ current struggles. But that idea doesn’t seem to add up when the 10 game unbeaten run and promotion to League 1 (after Kuhl’s departure in April 2011) is taken into account. It’s also worth noting that Kuhl was of course assistant to Waddock in the relegation season of 2009/2010. Any notion that the presence of Martin Kuhl would have made any discernible difference to Wycombe’s fortunes seems flimsy.
Waddock has been deservedly criticised at times for poor signings, though it appears that any further transfers to Wycombe are, due to financial constraints, likely to be made through use of the loan market, and this could actually prove to be Waddock’s chance to shine. He seems to be a more shrewd operator when loanees are involved, with Stuart Lewis (later signed on a permanent deal), Scott Donnelly, Marcello Trotta, Craig Eastmond, Gary Doherty (now signed to the club permanently), and Paul Hayes all examples of the manager’s clout. He’s also dealt well with emerging youth talent, with last year’s outstanding talents Jordon Ibe and Kadeem Harris (the former now at Liverpool, the latter at Cardiff City) being blooded sparingly but sensibly, and Anthony Stewart and Charles Dunne now regular members of this year’s squad.
Keith Scott has been tipped as an alternative to the current Wycombe boss, though whilst his record is statistically impressive, the ex Wycombe legend has plied his managerial trade at an agricultural level, with Leighton Town and Windsor and Eton (now Windsor FC) his former clubs. To say that taking on an unproven manager in a potentially very difficult situation, in a League 2 which has never looked as competitive as it does now, would be a risk is an understatement. Sean Dyche would be a far more appealing alternative but financial demands are likely to prove a stumbling block, and it’s arguable that Dyche is carefully biding his time should a job at a higher level (the Coventry City vacancy perhaps) come calling. Other potential candidates are few and far between.
It’s highly likely that Waddock will be given time under the new Supporters Trust regime, and this is the sensible option. Despite League 2 being highly competitive, relegation in a division containing the likes of Barnet, Burton, Dagenham, Accrington, AFC Wimbledon, Plymouth, York City (who Wanderers beat 3-1 on the opening day of the season), Morecambe and Bradford is highly unlikely. It’s also worth noting that Wycombe’s 2 defeats have come by a single goal: at home to Gillingham (a side amongst the promotion favourites with statistically the best League 2 attack in 2011/2012) and away at Southend United (also amongst the favourites and have strengthened their squad in the summer). Three games in and some of the panic seems hysterical and impractical. This is a season fundamentally and unequivocally based on stability for a club very much in transition, and whilst Waddock may not be the long term man for Wycombe, now is not the time for a knee jerk managerial change. League 2 is a very different beast from a League 1 which daunted Wycombe, and unless the club’s Football League status is under genuine threat after 15-20 matches, the brown envelope shouldn’t be on the order paper.
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