Wycombe Wanderers still searching for joy after Gareth Ainsworth

 | January 29 | 

7 mins read

wycombe wanderers adams park

February 21st will mark one year since Gareth Ainsworth walked out of the door at Adams Park. After over a decade in charge of Wycombe Wanderers and 550 games managed, the charismatic rock-star figure was always going to leave a gaping hole whenever he chose to depart. 

“Hardest thing I’ve ever done in football,” he said after saying goodbye to the squad he had spent 10 years of his life building. “A real top bunch of guys and I can’t thank them enough for what they’ve done for me and the fans should appreciate them so much. There’s an opportunity that I feel I have to take, but, yeah, a really tough day. I’ve just told them they can get promoted this season, they are a sensational bunch of lads.”

But the bump back down to earth has been tough to take for both Ainsworth and Wycombe. He left the Chairboys in seventh place, just three points outside the play-offs. They eventually finished eight points adrift in ninth, as Matt Bloomfield couldn't quite ride the wave and crash into the top six. 

As Wycombe stuttered, Ainsworth had just about done enough at Queens Park Rangers, leading them away from danger and eventually finishing on 50 points after a stunning win at champions Burnley all but secured their survival. In the summer, it was certainly a case of ‘wait and see’ for both parties. 

Wycombe Wanderers Odds

  • Wycombe to get relegated @ 17/2
  • Wycombe to beat Cheltenham @ 6/4

The two managers were given the chance to improve their respective squads in a bid to make it further up the table. Both managers have failed, based on what we see today. Ainsworth was, and still is a QPR legend, but the almost universal love for him wasn’t enough for him to keep his job. 

The R’s picked up just eight points from their opening 14 games of the season, scored only four goals at home and were six points from safety when Ainsworth was dismissed. Six defeats on the spin brought an end to his tenure in late October, while Wycombe haven’t fared much better under Bloomfield. 

It’s always tough being the next man in. Ainsworth was so tightly-knitted to Wycombe Wanderers that his departure was bound to cause some upset - both on the pitch and off it. David Moyes and Unai Emery both found out, at Manchester United and Arsenal respectively, just how tough it is to fill the boots of managerial legends. When nobody wants the previous boss to leave, it makes life almost impossible for their successor. Liverpool fans may discover the same thing when Jurgen Klopp departs in June. 

Wycombe were perennial challengers under their former boss. He dragged them up from League Two to the Championship with his never-say-die attitude and aggressive football. It wasn’t everyone’s cup of tea, but it suited the Chairboys down to the ground. Ainsworth managed, on a shoestring budget, to make Wycombe competitive in every single game they played. They weren’t fashionable, but they were flipping difficult to beat.

Adams Park became one of the toughest venues to visit anywhere in the Football League, and Ainsworth utterly adored the team he had moulded to his own vision. As tends to be the case with a long-serving manager, the entire club became dependent on the man calling the shots on the sideline. That’s not a criticism, it’s just the natural progression of things when success is produced on the pitch by such a lovable manager. However, it feels as though now Wycombe are counting the cost of putting so much faith into Ainsworth’s hands. 

Wycombe relegation

Wycombe currently sit 19th in League One, just four points above the drop zone. Bloomfield remains in charge despite winning just one of his last 17 league matches, a run of form that has seen them sink down the table in dramatic fashion. They are in the quarter-finals of the EFL Trophy and have a chance to make it to Wembley this year. But given that in their last three seasons at this level they have finished third, sixth and ninth, the league has to be the priority as they look to secure survival. 

Away from the managerial situation, one issue is that the squad overhaul has also seemingly made them weaker. The risk they took on free agent Lyle Taylor didn’t pay off, while Nick Freeman, Curtis Thompson and Jordan Obita all left the club over the summer. They were key players for Ainsworth, yet all departed at once. Meanwhile, the likes of Jordan Willis and Lewis Wing only stayed for a brief period, while a promising arrival from Ipswich Town, Kane Vincent-Young, has only managed 13 league appearances this term. 

They were 2-0 down to Fleetwood Town at home last time out, before a red card allowed them to get back into the game and rescue a 2-2 draw. Worryingly, even including the two goals they scored at the weekend, they have only scored 10 across their last 14 league matches. That’s an atrocious record, and a worrying trend for the manager to resolve given they have failed to score in half of those fixtures.

If you can’t score goals, you are going to get relegated, and that will be a major worry for chairman Rob Couhig. The American bought a 75% share in the club four years ago now, but in the summer he admitted he was looking for investment and would likely sell the club completely within four years. Couhig has been a safe pair of hands to date, but the fear of relegation will truly worry him. He will want to own a League One club, and the value could plummet if the Chairboys drop into League Two.

Wycombe fans have learnt to be patient over the past decade, and after 488 appearances for the club Bloomfield will get more time than most. However, the upcoming games are crucial in determining his fate. Having failed to beat basement boys Fleetwood at home, they travel to 22nd-placed Cheltenham Town at the weekend. It’s simply a must-win match for Wycombe’s survival hopes. Even though the Robins sit eight points behind them, the concern is that Reading will close the gap further, having lifted themselves to within three points of safety. 

Wycombe to beat cheltenham

The Royals have lost just one of their last nine league matches, form that has given them a shot in the arm in their survival struggle. It’s also form that Wycombe can only dream of, as they struggle for goals and points at this moment in time. It could be suggested that this is simply Wycombe returning to the mean, as they were pre-Ainsworth. 

They were a non-league team up until 1993, and have bounced between the fourth and third tier pretty much ever since. The one exception was that 2020-21 season when they played in the Championship for the first time in their history. It’s such a shame Covid-19 robbed their fans of fully experiencing that historic campaign. 

Ainsworth worked miracles, without a doubt. But now there are grey clouds gathering over Adams Park as they look to drag themselves out of this relegation mire. Patience will be key for Bloomfield, but right now Wycombe feel like a club still trying to work out how to move on from a manager who meant so much to them. With Ainsworth out of a job, there’s always the lingering temptation to go running back to the man who served them so well, before it is too late. 

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