It’s that time of the year again. The encouraging pre-season friendly draw with Premier League Aston Villa seems to have reinvigorated the desire of Wycombe Wanderers fans for the new football league campaign to kick off.
This year’s season opener, against probable strugglers Morecambe represents an interesting benchmark for those supporters with eyes on a third promotion in six seasons, and indeed also for those who see another year of consolidation as a more realistic aim.
Whatever the eventual outcome of the 2013/2014 season, it is almost certain that the campaign’s successes will be founded on the passion and ability of Gareth Ainsworth. It’s easy to forget that the boss is about to officially begin just his first full season in football management, but if Wanderers can replicate the form they showed for a sizeable chunk of his successful tenure thus far, then a surprise could be on the cards.
Ainsworth will have learned the lessons of his first seven months in charge, a spell in which on pitch fortunes often lurched from the sublime (a 4-0 home win over York City on February 9 which was part of a run that saw blues take 29 points from 11 games) to the ridiculous (an insipid, lugubrious display away at Barnet to mark the last ever game at Underhill in April).
Nonetheless to have safety secured in such comfortable fashion, long before the emotion of the final day fanfare at Adams Park versus Port Vale, represents a superb achievement for Wycombe’s up and coming manager.
He is right to assert the ability of this team to beat any side in League Two, yet the capitulation against Edgar Davids’ eventually relegated bees at the end of last season is indicative of a potential for sloppiness and underachievement that has not necessarily been ironed out. One of Ainsworth’s biggest challenged is to ensure that this sort of performance ideally isn’t seen again at all this time around.
But if anyone can rise to that, and the many other challenges lying ahead, Gareth Ainsworth can. His ability to conjure up a sense of unification not just within the playing squad but also throughout the support and the club, was remarkable in its immediacy, especially in the wake of such a poor start last season as Gary Waddock’s reign reached its sticky end.
This battling mentality and togetherness – best exemplified by the fans in the popular social media gambit ‘One Wycombe’ – which was so often lacking during Waddock’s last year in charge is now a given under Ainsworth. It no longer has to be demanded but is taken as a customary accompaniment to any performance in any competition.
This raised standard is summed up by Ainsworth himself in recent quotes from a Bucks Free Press article – “It’s always high pressure, and we’re up for it. The desire and the passion will never wain while I’m in charge and that’s just a gimme now, I don’t have to keep going on about it. Now we can channel that desire and that passion in certain ways and with certain tactics and hopefully get results from that.”
Such words augment the sense that Wycombe Wanderers is no longer a club prepared to carry passengers. And the last sentence is reflective of the responsibility on the shoulders of a group of players who enjoy a relationship with the supporters probably not seen since the John Gorman era at the very least. There can be no questioning the passion, and more importantly quality of the manager that we are lucky to have. With the Ainsworth approach the current Wycombe side, whilst limited in some areas and lacking perhaps the style and glamour of previous sides, can genuinely challenge this season. There are question marks over a potential lack of goals, departure of left back Charles Dunne, and the perceived lack of squad depth.
However, Wycombe are proof of the fact that promotion can be achieved without a natural goalscorer – shown by top scorer Matt Harrold’s 9 league goals in 08/09 under Peter Taylor, and the 9 penalties that made up Scott Rendell’s 19 in 10/11. Whilst injuries could be a problem if they occur, the close knit nature of the current team (one of its key strengths and something nurtured by Ainsworth) could arguably not be achieved with a much larger group of players.
League Two may be littered with a few big spenders this coming season, and the usual suspects could well be there or thereabouts, but with the continuing influence of a manager set for bigger and better things in the not too distant future, (plus perhaps an inspired loan signing or two – and it has been done before by Ainsworth with Michael Harriman) the playoffs are not out of reach by any means.
In contrast to previous campaigns we won’t be amongst the favourites for promotion and that lack of pressure will suit Ainsworth and the players. Don’t bet against us sneaking under the radar this time around.
Come on you blues!