Match Preview Xtra: Tom Hancock from Chairboys Central
As yet another storm batters the country, Doncaster Rovers get set to take on Wycombe Wanderers at the Keepmoat Stadium this weekend after suffering back-to-back defeats away from home.
In addition to our in-depth Match Preview looking ahead to the game, we also spoke to Wycombe fan Tom Hancock, founder of Chairboys Central, to get his thoughts on our team’s clash. Tom tells us how he sees Saturday’s match playing out, discusses his hopes for the club going forward and gives us the lowdown on the visitor’s best players.
When you’ve read this interview, please be sure to check out Chairboys Central’s own Q&A with our editor over at their site before this weekend’s fixture.
ITEN: Top of the league when we last met, Wycombe have wobbled since (losing seven and winning six out of 15 games) but recovered to sit in 3rd place. How would you assess the past three months?
Tom: Three days after that last meeting, we travelled to Ipswich - where we came away with a 0-0 draw and almost nicked it with a late penalty - for our last match in almost three weeks. Due to the Bury situation and our early exit from the FA Cup, we found ourselves with an unprecedented 'winter break'. Despite beating Burton 2-0 in our first game afterwards, we didn't look at our best and looking back now, I think that gap did have an effect on us.
A December and January schedule featuring trips to Oxford, Pompey, Sunderland and Peterborough and home games against Coventry and Ipswich was always likely to be tough - and so it proved as we collected a single point (against Ipswich again) from those six fixtures. Injuries took their toll; due to Jack Grimmer's absence, we had to play a centre half at right back for seven straight games, and key midfield cog Dom Gape was also a big miss for the odd match. I suppose our grinding out of results proved to be unsustainable, our defence crumbling and our fairly decent goal difference being almost wiped out as a result.
Last month's win over Rochdale - our first in just over a month - represented a turning point in the sense we put in a long-awaited cohesive performance, but our away form was still abysmal. We ended up losing five on the trot without scoring and didn't 'improve' (we'll see if it's really improved on Saturday) until we went and won 2-0 at Bolton, a very assured performance but against a struggling team. The same could be said for last weekend's 3-1 victory over Tranmere, although we don't always make poor teams look poor, so that was pleasing to see - and having the magic Fred Onyedinma back to his best, tying full-backs in knots after three months on the sidelines is an absolutely massive boost.
So all in all, despite a torrid festive period and a bit beyond, we're still in a fantastic position. As I've probably said before, any Wycombe fan who says they expected to be in the promotion mix in February is lying through their teeth. And, despite the appalling run of form, and as I'm sure other supporters are, I'm beginning to believe again!
When we last spoke, you said that a top ten finish would constitute a successful season. At this stage, with things still going so well, is anything less than a Play-Off place a disappointment for Wycombe?
I maintain that it would be a disappointment but not a failure. I have to say though, with every week that we remain where we are - still within touching distance of the automatic promotion spots, which feels absolutely ridiculous - the potential disappointment becomes that little bit greater.
With performances improving, Fred back, the takeover finally officially through, and Gareth Ainsworth and Dobbo (assistant manager Richard Dobson) signing new long-term deals this week, everything is looking up and as I've already said, I'm beginning to believe once more. I'm still not going to predict where we'll finish, but I will say this: we are under no pressure.
When there was talk of Wycombe coming off the rails or whatever, Gareth responded by asking "What rails are we supposed to be on?". Exactly.
Who amongst your squad do you think is most capable of causing Doncaster problems this weekend?
Fred Onyedinma is the obvious one. Not every team has an obvious star player, but he is ours and is better than this division. He's a wizard with the ball at his feet and will tie right backs in knots, is genuinely two-footed and physically tough. The fact that he's our second biggest contributor (goals and assists per 90) despite missing most of the season probably tells you all you need to know. In full flow, it's hard to find an answer for him.
Joe Jacobson's set-piece delivery is always a key weapon for us, Adebayo Akinfenwa you know about all too well, and David Wheeler has been Mr. Consistent throughout the campaign. Personally, he’s my player of the season. He's got the 'unglamorous' off-the-ball stuff down to a fine art and constantly looks to create from central areas in the final third, something of which we should see a lot more now he's moved from the right wing to midfield. Also keep an eye on Paul Smyth, the tricky QPR loanee who looks at home again back on the right of a front three - and has a seriously long throw in his locker.
Both of our clubs are seen as among the “nice guys” of League One, with positive managers and a generally honest bunch of players. Do you think that helps or hinders at this level?
I can't say I've ever really thought much about it! I suppose there are different ways of bringing about success, and maybe there's more pressure on the biggest clubs at this level to be a bit 'meaner' in the way they go about their business. Almost a 'win at all costs' mentality, if you like. So perhaps it does help smaller clubs like us to have ambition but strive to achieve in a more grounded manner.
You can't turn yourself into a big club or manufacture a big club mentality, and nor should clubs try to do that. Maybe being 'the nice guys' comes naturally to smaller clubs and it can help give you an extra 5% or something when things start going well as they are for us this season.
How do you see Saturday’s game playing out?
Doncaster have shown themselves to be capable on their day of blowing teams away - and while your recent form has been as uninspiring as ours (although we have, touch wood, begun to turn the corner), we're not going to take you lightly at all. With only four home games left, you'll want to take advantage of your solid record at the Keepmoat and give your fans something to celebrate.
Generally, heavily possession-based sides are the type we can struggle against, but we do seem to be returning towards the defensive solidity which took us to the League One summit before Christmas, so that ought to help. Your lack of a finisher was clear last time we played - even if that game did change somewhat because of Tom Anderson's red card - but you've obviously addressed that since. From memory, we did concede one or two chances a little too easily that day, and we can't really afford to do so again.
We'll come into this one full of confidence and eager to come away with something - preferably all three points, but a draw would be a good result - before yet another weekend off. If we can get Fred Onyedinma running the show for us, I'm very confident in our ability to score a couple - he really does improve our creativity noticeably - and bag what would be a massive win. They all are now in the quest for promotion.
Finally, where do you see Wycombe Wanderers in 12 months’ time, under the ownership of the Couhigs and considering the achievements of this season so far?
That's impossible to answer really. Obviously I would love to be in the Championship - albeit almost certainly battling relegation and getting thrashed week in, week out - but I hope we can be competing at the top end of League One again. More importantly, though, I would expect the club to be in a much better financial state and being run sustainably, as the Couhigs have pledged and as I'm sure all fans would want to see. I believe we're stepping into a hugely exciting new era. The Couhigs are great for the club and hopefully the club will be great for them.