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Wycombe Wanderers 3
Cheltenham Town 1
Saturday 23rd November 1974
FA Cup First Round Proper
After defeating Southern League Premier side Margate at home in the final qualifying round, Wanderers were favourites to beat Cheltenham Town of the Southern League First Division in the First Round Proper at Loakes Park on Saturday 23rd November 1974.
Interest in the tie was high in both Wycombe and Cheltenham. Entrance prices had been raised by 5p all around for the tie with The Robins. Entry to the terraces on three sides of the ground cost 35p adults, 25p children and 15p OAP's - it would cost you an extra 25p to transfer to the main stand enclosure and seating. The visitors had sold all their 300 allocation of stand tickets while the total support for the Gloucesterhire side on the day was around 500 in a total official gate of 5,001.
Team news for Wanderers saw the absence of left-back Gary Hand. Hand, who joined the Club a few weeks into the 1974/75 season from Ilford, was already a massive favourite with the Wanderers faithful but had picked up an ankle injury in the previous weeks Isthmian League 3-3 thriller against Ilford at Loakes Park - a game where the scores swung back and fourth before the visitors, playing with ten men following the sending off of Ilford's long haired defender John Still, equalised with a minute remaining.
Hand's absence meant a chance for six foot Dave Bullock to get his chance in the Wycombe back-four alongside Paul Birdseye, Keith Mead and Alan Phillips. Meanwhile, the visitors would include a few Wycombe connections - the most notable being left back/midfielder Julian Lailey who made 103 appearances for Wanderers between 1968 and 1970 and had also appeared on tour in Cyprus as guest for Wycombe the previous May. Town forward Dave Lewis also played one game on trial for Wycombe in a friendly against Dusseldorf in May 1971. Wycombe's Dylan Evans was also an ex-Cheltenham player but didn't make Manager Brian Lee's selection on First Round day against The Robins. Cheltenham Player/Manager Dennis Allen also came with a local connection, having made more than 350 appearances for Reading. Allen didn't play in the tie at Loakes Park but did bring his nine year old son Martin to the tie - Allen junior would go on to have a football career of his own and also manage The Robins between September 2008 and December 2009.
Stuart Earp from the Bucks Free Press began his report of the tie as follows: "A Blistering spell of power at the start of the second half saw Wycombe Wanderers storm into th second round of the F.A. Cup on Saturday for the second successive year — and the fourth time in their history. The unfortunate team to suffer were Cheltenham who, throughout the first half, had looked equally as good as their opponents.
With a penalty apiece putting the sides level at the interval things did not look too bright for Wycombe when the second half commenced. They had looked lethargic, slow and even disinterested at times in the first half while Cheltenham’s work rate stood them in good stead. Then the fireworks started.
Mick Holifield, a potential matchwinner on these occasions, began the burst of goals with a fine left foot effort and then Paul Birdseye got into the act in the best possible style just three minutes later. Paul’s crucial third goal, one of the best by a full back at Loakes Park for a long time, came after a brilliant run down the flank which ended in an equally superb shot into the back of the net. Bravely though they tried, Cheitenham just couldn’t make up the leeway. One of the main reasons was the performance of goalkeeper John Maskell. After a shaky start, “Mask” pulled out a string of memorable saves as the visitors hammered away at the home goal from long range. Maskell, flinging himself about in tremendous style, defied everything they could offer.
He wasn’t the only hero on the day. Keith Mead was again in impeccable centre back form while Keith Searle worked harder than anyone upfront. These three stood out in a great team performance which has now put Wycombe Wanderers within sight of one of the greatest achievements — a place in the third round, in which the First and Second Division clubs compete."
Describing the opening goal, Earp reported, "Things were looking good for Wycombe, But then, with 13 minutes gone, Cheltenham made virtually their first visit into the home penalty area, Tony Wagstaffe slipped the ball across the box to Ken Skeen who was felled from behind by Alan Phillips. Referee Trevor Spencer, who incidentally was in charge of the Newport game last year, was right on the spot and had no doubts about his decision. Dave Lewis, marked as the danger man from Cheltenham, kept his record of scoring in every round by beating Maskell’s dive from the penalty spot."
Wycombe were definitely playing below their best and frustrations boiled over in the 28th minute when Howard Kennedy picked up a very rare Wycombe booking for dissent after protesting over a foul on Jones. But after Maskell had saved full length from Pat Casey Wycombe were given a lifeline with a penalty five minutes before the break.
Describing Wycombe's equaliser, Earp said "In the 40th minute, their skipper Jeffries committed a needless foul. The ball had gone when he brought down Steve Perrin right under the nose of referee Spencer inside the area. Not only did Jeffries’ name go into the book but Cheltenham paid a further price when Mr. Spencer rightly ordered a penalty which Horseman drove expertly into the corner of the net, sending Hall the wrong way. That incident could well have decided the match. At that stage Wycombe looked unlikely to get back on terms before half time and they now started the second period with fresh confidence."
Holifield went close for Wanderers within a minute of the restart when his effort was blocked by the feet of Hall in the visitors goal. But 60 seconds later Holifield had more luck. Dave Alexander, preferred to Terry Reardon in midfield, slipped the ball to Horseman, who in turn set up the chance for Holifield. Once again, Holifield's pace took him past the defence and this time Hall had no chance with the fierce left foot drive that beat him all the way and put Wycombe ahead 2-1.
It was 3-1 to the Wanderers shortly afterwards, described by Earp, "With the crowd still buzzing, Paul Birdseye joined another attack two minutes later. Breaking into top gear on the wing, the full back took the ball past one, two, three defenders and then completed his run with a perfectly placed drive into the net from a difficult angle.The first few minutes of the new half had completely transformed the game. Wycombe were now well and truly in the driving seat, almost beyond reach, Cheltenham could hardly have known what hit them, In three minutes they had seen all their earlier work wasted — shattered by superb attacking football and two goals that would have taxed the best of defences."
To Town's credit they never gave up. Maskell was forced to gather Jones' swerving shot on 64 minutes. Paul Crowley sent in a long range effort that Maskell had to push the ball up before gathering at the second attempt. Thirty seconds later Jones crashed in another 30 yard effort that flew inches over the bar. Then in the 73rd minute Maskell pulled off what was described as his best save of the tie when he denied Crowley again - tipping over an effort that seemed destined for the top corner.
But Wycombe held out and could have extended their lead in the final moments when Perrin saw a shot saved by Hall. The final whistle signalled celebrations for Wanderers as they looked forward to Monday's Second Round draw where they would be paired at home to 'Third Division' Bournemouth in a tie that would take place at Loakes Park on Saturday 14th December 1974 and see the return of former Wycombe favorite John Delaney, who switched to pro football with The Cherries in 1973.
What else was happening in the UK in late November/early December 1974
23 November 1974 - No.1 UK Albums Chart - Greatest Hits - Elton John
24 November 1974 – 'The Birmingham Six' were charged with the Birmingham pub bombings.
30 November 1974 - Stoke City beat Leicester City 1–0 to move to the top of the First Division, but just three points separate the top nine clubs. Carlisle United lie in the relegation zone with Luton Town and Chelsea.
5 December 1974 - The final episode of Monty Python's Flying Circus, was broadcast on BBC 2.
7 December 1974 - No.1 UK Singles Chart - You're the First, the Last, My Everything - Barry White
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