You might remember my fondness for Wycombe last season under Gary Waddock, they were a better League One side than their position, and eventual relegation, suggested – or at least they were a better attacking side. That disappointment, though, continued into this year, and eventually Waddock paid the price with his job. When he was replaced with Gareth Ainsworth (still playing for the club) it felt a little like a cost-saving measure, but happily Ainsworth has overseen something of a recovery for the Chairboys, who even ended a recent hoodoo by winning a game on Sky at top of the table Gillingham recently. I think its time I had a look at their season and see how things have changed.

Ainsworth took charge of Wycombe on the 24th September 2012. At that point, the team’s seven games had seen them earn four points and though looking back, defeats against Southend, Gillingham and Exeter aren’t necessariy harbingers of doom, losing to Chesterfield and Wimbledon wasn’t great. Ainsworth’s first match, mind you, wasn’t much better, a 3-0 defeat at Dagenham.

Things started to improve a little thereafter. He got his first point against Plymouth the Tuesday after that, and his first win against Torquay on the Saturday. A very basic look at Wycombe’s season, then, must include the following graph.

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Ainsworth’s spell has been a success so far, then. There’s an element, I would have to say, of regression to the mean and, importantly, Wycombe played all of their pre-season and the first two games of the season (W1 L1) with last season’s top scorer Stuart Beavon in the team before selling him to Preston. That would obviously upset the team a little in terms of goal-scoring. The six games after Beavon left the club, Wycombe only scored 0.67 goals per game (and failed to score in 3 of them), losing five and drawing only one. Ainsworth then happened upon a striker.

45 minutes into that thrashing at Dagenham, a spindly, pale kid came onto the pitch in a Wycombe shirt – Matt McClure¹. He couldn’t do anything to stop that defeat, but next time out, he scored Wycombe’s only goal against Dagenham and has now worked his way up to be the club’s top scorer with 10. I haven’t seen a massive amount of McClure, except his goals and that game with Gillingham, but he seems to be something of a poacher which always bodes well for a career – a Jonny-on-the-spot, if you will. Whatever, his arrival in the team, and his presence, seems to be as much of an influence on Wycombe as his manager is.

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There’s a very clear picture in the graph of Wycombe’s strikers. In terms of accuracy, they’re all pretty similar, but in terms of conversion (gold bars here) only McClure (52.63% – scored 10 of his 19 shots on target) is anything like worthy of the name (since the departure of Beavon), with Joel Grant far behind with 30.43% (7 from 23). It all adds up to a team who would be struggling for goals. 42 goals in 35 games goes pretty well along with that, doesn’t it? Indeed, nobody above them has scored fewer.

The difference, and it so often happens with attackers becoming managers, is in the defence. Here’s the graph for the first 7 games, the first 7 under Ainsworth, and the next 21 (averages for and against in terms of goals). The first few matches of Gareth Ainsworth’s reign weren’t much different, but overall, Wycombe are scoring more and conceding less (conceding .43 of a goal per game less – that’s 1 every 2 games) which will only result in improvement.

130305c.jpgSo Where Now For Wycombe?

I would say Wycombe, with 13 games to go and 9 points to make up are probably too far away for a playoff place this season, but if they can keep the band together (maybe replace some of the misfiring dead-wood – Dennis Oli, for example) over the summer with better, then they’ve got to be in with a real shout next time.

There’s some interesting factors here, though, and they allow me to extrapolate a bit. Wycombe’s results against the teams in the 8 thirds of the table bear an exact correlation with what you’d expect, as displayed here.

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However, they only have four more games against the top eight left (and three of those at home) whereas most of their games are against the middle-eight teams in the league. Extrapolating their average points per game against each group of teams, and multiplying them by the number of games left against those teams, I get a figure of 17 points extra for the season (3 in 4 games against the top 8, 9 in 6 games against the middle eight, and 5 in 3 games against the bottom eight) which would leave Wycombe on 65 points, generally a few points shy of a playoff place.

What Have We Learned?

A few things. Namely, that a regular goal-scorer is difficult to replace, that scoring more goals and conceding fewer is a sure-fire way of improving your team. We’ve seen that results aren’t always instant, and we’ve also seen that over a season, the better teams will rise to the top of the league. In other words, we’ve learned very little, we’ve just seen Wycombe’s 2012/13 season shining a torch on some of the things we already knew.

¹Quick addendum here, related to yesterday night’s post. On the Sgorio of a Saturday afternoon, they have a videprinter running at the bottom of the game. Alongside the Y Fflint’s and the Caerdydds, you get English updates, too. Against Plymouth this season, the videprinter produced the following message.

COCH – Matt McClure.

Seemed a little harsh, I thought, but fair dos. Turns out he’d been sent off, so maybe there was something in it.

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