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|1993-1994-RESULTS, SCORERS, ATTENDANCES - MORE REPORTS||1993-1994 RETRO INDEX|
Wycombe Wanderers 3
Saturday 9th April 1994
Football League Division Three
After consecutive draws over Easter against Torquay and Rochdale, Wanderers took on 7th placed Walsall at Adams Park on Saturday 9th April 1994. Few would have predicted the final score when, with less than 20 minutes of the game remaining the score was still 0-0. A dire opening hour was suddenly transformed when Martin O'Neill replaced Tony Cunningham and Steve Brown with Tony Hemmings and Steve Thompson. The breakthrough came on 73 minutes when Dave Carroll's corner from the left found its way through to Simon Garner, who nodded home. With Walsall pushing for an equaliser, Thompson broke down the left and found Hemmings who squared to Carroll who cooly slotted past James Walker in The Saddlers goal. To add icing on the cake, a poor clearance by Walker in the final minute went straight to Hemmings who ran on before driving home a low shot into the far corner of the net to make the full-time score 3-0.
O'Neill admitted after the game that his team had been "played off the field" before commenting on the run-in ahead of his team. "Automatic promotion is all we want. We have got five games left. If we win four of those we will win promotion." It appeared to be a four-horse race for the top three automatic promotion slots. Shrewsbury knocked Chester off the top with a win at Rochdale on the Tuesday following Wycombe's win over Walsall, while 5th placed Preston only drew at Gillingham. North End now trailed 3rd placed Wanderers, who had a game in hand, by seven points. However it was fourth-placed Crewe, four points behind Wycombe, who pose the greatest threat. “Crewe dropping points has given us a gap, but that’s all it is,” said O’Neill. Wanderers were set to play Crewe and Preston in their last two matches of the 1993/94 campaign. “In fairness to Preston, who have only four games left, I think they feel now a play-off position is their best opportunity of promotion,” said Wycombe’s manager. “But if they win three games on the trot, our final game will be one to remember.” Wanderers’ promotion quest would continues at Scarborough on Saturday 16th April 1994. Boro, managed by former Wycombe player Steve Wicks, were lying in 14th place. “They are capable of beating anyone on their day. They do not have anything to play for, so it may be easier for them to play with having less pressure,” warned O’Neill. Tension seemed to make Wanderers freeze for most of last the meeting with Walsall. But O’Neill added, “I am hoping it won’t be the pressure that will kill us off. The players should enjoy it. The fact we are going for something reflects on their abilities.”
Bucks Free Press - Claire Nash reporting from Adams Park:
Somehow nervy Wycombe managed to transform one of their worst performances of the season into one of their most comfortable victories. Three goals in the last 20 minutes by Simon Garner, Dave Carroll and substitute Tony Hemmings turned round a dire first hour where both teams seemed intent on outdoing each other’s inadequacies. If these promotion-points chasing sides were tense, it was to the point of paralysis.
The sooner Blues hightail it upwards out of the wild and wacky world of Division Three football, the better, otherwise their supporters’ nervous systems will blow. Such an emphatic victory was unthinkable as the match entered the last half hour. Wanderers were sorely bereft of any ideas, initially to stem Walsall’s pretty patterns, then to proffer any of their own. The defence was forced to back-pedal. Without Jason Cousins’ massive performance in central defence and Walsall’s failure to find a finish to match their flash, Blues’ would have had heavy arrears to make up.
The tide was seemingly turned after Martin O’Neill made assertive substitutions around the 65-minute mark: replacing the ineffectual Tony Cunningham and Steve Brown with Hemmings and Steve Thompson. Hemmings’ pace was immediately troublesome. Although Garner opened the scoring with a set-piece header, Hemmings played a vital role in the second goal and scored the third, albeit a gift from goalkeeper James Walker. Thompson too was part of the build-up to the second goal, taking the ball down the left channel before squaring to Hemmings who in turn fed Carroll. But O’Neill points to Rodney McDonald’s woeful and crucial miss on 64 minutes. The Walsall forward blasted over the Bucks Free Press stand after Kyle Lightbourne’s pass found him with acres of space.
“When he missed the chance, I felt then that if fate were to play a hand we would have a chance of winning the game. There would have been long odds on us scoring three goals, though," said Martin O'Neill. Long odds indeed. A holding operation appeared to be the order of the day. Walsall knocked on the floodgates, but they never looked like opening them. “We were doing everything except putting the ball in the net which is what it is all about,” was manager Kenny Hibbitt’s adroit conclusion.
The whole saga, from Wycombe’s point of view, was so very nearly overshadowed yet again by a referee’s decision which went against them in the first half. They had a good case for a penalty just before half time after Brown appeared to be brought down in the area by Dean Smith. However Ron Groves waved play on which prompted an apoplectic outburst by O’Neill and Blues’ supporters generally. Their sense of frustration would have been deeper had Walsall not left their shooting boots and thinking caps in the Midlands. Dean Peer was played on-side by Glyn Creaser but wasted his chance on 20 minutes. Moments later Smith put a free header wide. But if the free kick hadn’t found him it would have almost certainly reached three completely unmarked Walsall players lined up behind him. Cousins, moving from full back to centre back in place of suspended Matt Crossley, was the only player who looked comfortable and could deal competently with the amount of pressure Walsall brought to bear. Wycombe’s midfield found it nightmarishly difficult to string anything coherent together. Brown and Keith Ryan struggled to get a grip, while Carroll’s and Steve Guppy’s distribution was wayward.
“We were struggling. We could not get into it. There was a lot of tension,” said O’Neill. “Steve Brown found it hard going. I think if he had got the penalty it would have given him renewed vigour. He and Keith Ryan were very pushed out there.”
O’Neill switched his players with 25 minutes to go. It followed a dismal period by both sides. The players seemed to play one-twos off each other. The sloppy syndrome was either contagious or they were being most politically correct. Thankfully Simon Garner, the wiliest campaigner on the pitch, knows how to make a clear statement of intent and broke the painful deadlock on 73 minutes. Walker missed his punch to clear Carroll’s corner and Garner headed home from close range. David Titterton blasted wide from afar seven minutes later. By now Walsall were leaving big gaps as they pressed forward to find a reply. It gave Wycombe room to manoeuvre which they did superbly. Garner won possession to supply Thompson who avoided one tackle and blazed past another marker before squaring to a patient Hemmings. The striker fed Carroll to his right who picked his spot perfectly and thumped home sweetly for his second goal in as many games on 82 minutes. It afforded Wycombe that rare sensation of safety, as Walsall proceeded to crumble. Walker dropped a stoppage-time danger when he hit a clearance straight at Hemmings who took full advantage of the gift.
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