Event: EFL League One Play Off Semi Final 1st Leg - Fleetwood vs Wycombe
Date: Friday 3rd July 2020
Location: Highbury Stadium
Two sides who were not expected to be fighting for a spot in the Championship for the next season will go head-to-head on Friday in a richly contested tie between two teams of differing styles. Neither team would have expected to find themselves only two games away from Wembley but they will come together to try and put on a show for that coveted Championship glory.
In the Red Corner
Fleetwood occupy the most dangerous and all-be-it fortunate spot in the play off’s in sixth place, historically seen as a lucky position for a team to be in if they want to taste promotion. The ‘Fishermen’ have lost the least amount of games of any side in League One this season, with only seven defeats from their 35 games, however, they have picked up 12 draws in that time as well which is more than any of the top nine.
That inability to turn one point into three has left Fleetwood in the most precarious of positions when PPG was announced, but they will be looking ahead to the game against Wycombe with optimism as having bested the visitors in February from a second half Paddy Madden goal.
They are currently in their sixth consecutive season in League One, but it is their second attempt at the play offs. In 2017, Fleetwood found themselves in the Play Off Semi Final but were overcome by Bradford City that day. Bookending their run in the play offs from 2017, in four of their last six seasons that have been settling between safety and mid table, so it was a surprise to see Fleetwood bombing back up the table, but that can be laid at the door of Joey Barton.
A man of more action that words, Joey Barton arrived at Highbury at the beginning of the 2018/19 season having been away from football for almost 18 months. In his first job as a manager, he guided Fleetwood to a respectable 11th placed finish.
This season it was a year of development, as he got his side moving the ball around on the pitch, and things started rolling of it. The first few months of the season were very up and down, but since the 14th of December Fleetwood lost only one league game, a one-nil defeat away to Burton Albion was the only blip on an incredible run of one defeat in 18 games, leading to their late charge up the table.
A man not too far from controversy, but a young manager looking to make strides in the what could possibly be a historic first ever Championship season for Fleetwood Town.
The Star Men
Joey Barton has crafted a side of well tested League One players who have come together to create a formidable team this season. Three Fleetwood defenders played over 30 of the 35 league games this season, with Danny Andrew stepping out for all of them.
Having that consistency at the back has been vital for Fleetwood’s surge up the league and their solid defensive line. Lewie Coyle and Harry Souttar both played 34 games each, with six goals coming from the three defenders in the league this season.
Every team is looking for goals from midfield, and Fleetwood had that with summer signing Josh Morris from recently relegated Scunthorpe. 10 goals from the winger this year, admittedly not as many as his 2016/17 season with the aforementioned Scunthorpe where he netted 19 times, but a very good season none the less.
Up front is where Fleetwood shined, with both Paddy Madden and Ched Evans notching double digits for the season, Madden in particular striking 15 times in the league.
The Blue Corner
Before the season started you’d have put money on Fleetwood not being in the play offs, but you would have put money on Wycombe struggling once again. Boy did they disappoint the pundits.
An absolutely incredible season from the Wanderers compared to last season’s campaign where they finished in a lowly 17th place. An impressive turnaround from a side who were not known for their goal scoring flair – the lowest of the top nine this season – but they had a knack of closing out games before the opposition could find a way back into the tie.
In only their second consecutive season in League One, they look for an incredible assault on the Championship next season if they can play there cards right and cause a few more upsets. Can we call them upsets now? Considering they finished in third, they are actually deemed on paper the favourites out of all four sides.
It’s fair to say not many Wycombe fans would have expected their side to be fighting for the play off’s this season, let alone being in a strong position when the season is over.
The current longest serving manager in the top four leagues of England, Gareth Ainsworth has seen it all at this point. Appointed in 2012, Ainsworth has stuck by the club through relegations and promotions, financial struggles at the club and new owners taking over.
If any man deserves a place in the Championship it’s this man. He’s been linked with the managerial positions at Millwall and Sunderland this season, even going as far as having preliminary talks with the North East side before rejecting them in favour of a stay with Wycombe.
No matter the outcome of the play off’s this season, Gareth Ainsworth’s position as manager is settled and undisputed for the next season to come, although his head could be turned if any Championship level jobs do come knocking.
The Star Men
In a team that is not seen as a free-flowing attacking force, they needed to have defensive stability to give themselves a chance this year. Ryan Allsop played all but two of the league games between the sticks this season for Wycombe, collecting 13 clean sheets along the way.
At the back, Anthony Stewart was an ever present in a backline that conceded only 40 goals in 35 games this year, with the Englishman stepping out for all of them. You need guys across the pitch in a side like Wycombe, and that is what they found in Joe Jacobson once again.
Joint top scorer last season with seven, he went three better this year as he hit double digits from left back, a craftsman from the penalty spot, and a belter from a free kick, Jacobson could be eyed up by a few teams in the summer.
Going forward was always a difficult spot for Wycombe, but thrice-top scorer in a row Adebayo Akinfenwa is always there when you need him. 36 goals in three seasons, the bulky forward is never too far away from the goal.
For me, a game that will be decided by which team has come back from the break the fittest. Wycombe were in a very inconsistent form just before the season stopped, whilst Fleetwood were riding home.
It would have been a very dominant Fleetwood performance if the season continued. However, with both sides being a bit rusty, it’ll be interesting to see which side can take the initiative in the first leg. If I was to stick my neck out, I’d take a punt on a home win, but maybe closer than people would have thought.
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