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MIDDLESBROUGH v WYCOMBE
Second Round First Leg - The Riverside Stadium
Wednesday 16th September 1998
Wycombe came within seconds of holding Boro to a single goal lead going into the second leg at Adams Park next Tuesday. The goal avalanche predicted by so many didn't come as Brian Robson's ploy of 'resting' six of the players that beat Spurs on Sunday nearly backfired. It took the home side until the 37th minute to break the deadlock when Hamilton Ricard turned in a close range ball but Wycombe had their chances - particularly in the second-half. Kavanagh, Mohan and Bulman all went close and it was three minutes into injury before Gianluca Festa added a second - again from close quarters following a Gazza corner from the left. So another peformance to be proud of for Wycombe and everything to play for in the second leg at Adams Park. If Boro get it wrong on the night and Wycombe can find the scoring touch then it could be bye-bye for Robbo and Gazza.
Before the kick-off the 300 or so Wycombe fans wo had made the 250 mile journey to Teeside were shocked to hear that Steve Brown had joined the ever expanding injury list at Adams Park - he didn't even travel with the team after breaking down in training. Chris Vinnicombe was direct replacement for Brownie, while Mark Westhead continued in goal in place of the injured Taylor and Steve McGavin came in for Read. There was good news for Wycombe, however, with the confirmation that Paul Emblen had completed a move from Charlton Atheltic for a reported £50,000.
With Robson chosing to rest key players, Paul Gascoigne was made Captain for the night on a blustery night at the sparsely attended Riverside Stadium. Boro, aiming to make it third time lucky in this competition, forced a series of corners within the opening minutes of the game. As early as the fifth minute Gazza floated in a corner from the right but Ricard's downward header found the side netting. On 10 minutes a corner from the opposite side saw Ricard head onto the top of the Wycombe net from inside the six yard box. A long ball from Gazza on 15 minutes found Andy Cambell in space on the left side of midfield but his shot was wide of the target as he tried to angle a low shot past Westhead. Wycombe survived these vital opening attacks and as the frustration level rose on the Boro bench so the shots got more wide of the mark from the home side.
Wycombe gave hope that the game wouldn't be a routine victory for Boro when Kavanagh came in from the right on 16 minutes but the ball bobbled at the crucial moment and the chance went astray. The Wycombe contingent were now outsinging the local fans as John Cornforth continued an interesting battle with Gazza in midfield. The England exile tried to bundle his way through on goal on 21 minutes but he was eventually shut out by a Wycombe defence gradually beginning to find their feet on a surface but awkward by the persistant rain.
Mark Westhead made the first of two brilliant saves in the first-half on 28 minutes when he palmed a Gazza effort away effort after the Boro Captain had chested down a cross from the right by Festa. The home fans had thought they had taken the lead on 31 minutes when Gazza crossed from the right bye-line for Ricard to direct into the net from close quarters but match referee Eddie Lomas spotted a handball and booked the Boro player. Alan Beeton peformed heroics in the 31st minute when he blocked succesive shots from Robbie Stocklade and Alan Moore - the second when the Wycombe player was on the deck. The opening goal in the 37th minute came from a Gazza short corner on the right. The ball was played low into the Wycombe box and Ricard was there to ease the worries amongst the home contingent. Westhead's second wonder save came five minutes before the break. Newly signed Paul Emblen lost out in midfield to Phil Stamp who weaved through to Wycombe goal, Maradona style, before unleashing a screaming shot towards the top left corner of the Wycombe goal - Westhead having to dive full-length to tip the ball around for a corner. The save was breathtaking and Martin Taylor could find himself with very strong competition for a First Team slot shortly. As the first-half drew to close Wycombe threw out a warning of better things to come in the second when Mark Stallard was left in space on the right but again his final shot let him down. Half-time Boro 1 Wycombe 0
Westhead was alert again five minutes into the second half when he got the slighest of touhes on a low shot from Stocklade. Wycombe won the their first corner of the game on 54 minutes when Emblen tangled with Dean Gordon on the right bye-line. Cornforth's 'Gazza' style corner was claimed comfortably by Beresford in the Boro goal. Ex-Boro player Nicky Mohan picked up a booking for a late tackle from behind as Wycombe began to make their presence felt in more ways than one. Wycombe's best spell of the game started just on the hour mark when Cornforth sent in a free-kick from the left that McGavin picked out but the Wycombe striker took to long to line up the shot. Almost immediately Emblen found Kavanagh on the right who was suddenly left in acres of space but his low shot/cross skidded across the face of the goal. A minute later McGavin saw his shot spilled by Beresford and when the loose ball came to Cornforth 30 yards from goal his curling chip nearly found its way in.
Wycombe soaked up more Boro pressure before McGavin saw another effort go wide on 74 minutes. With twelve minutes left Gazza was bundled down by the Wycombe defence on the edge of the area but the indirect free-kick was successfully blocked by the Wycombe wall and Westhead claimed the ball. Carroll forced another Wycombe corner on the right with ten minutes left and Mohan should have hit the target with his header after Cornforth had played it to the near post. The injection of Bulman into the Wycombe team for the final nine minutes must of thrilled the youngster. He was immediately in action trying to break out from the right side of midfield but he was held back without reward from the officials. Two minutes later, however, Dannie Boy came within a whisker of levelling the tie when another Cornforth corner from the right was met by a powerful and well directed header that Beresford some how blocked. The game was four minutes into injury time when Craig Harrison forced another Boro corner on the left. Gazza floated the ball deep to the far post, Stamp headed back and Festa stuck it from a couple of yards. The final whistle went within 30 seconds with the Wycombe team left to acknowledge the support from the travelling fans who had witnessed a performance that shows that Wycombe have the fight to survive in Division Two and even beat this lot when they come to Adams Park next week. Full-time Boro 2 Wycombe 0 WYCOMBE TEAM:Westhead, Kavanagh, Beeton, Cornforth, Cousins, Mohan, Carroll (sub 94 Wraight), Vinnicombe, Stallard, McGavin (sub 81 Bulman), Emblen subs not used McCarthy, Taylor and Holsgrove BORO TEAM:Beresford, Vickers, Gordon (sub 61 Harrison), Festa, Gascoigne, Moore (sub 73 Ormerod), Stamp, Kinder, Campbell, Ricard, Stocklade subs not used Beck, Summerbell and Blackmore Att:11,535