By Matt Cecil
Wanderers' League One campaign began with a 3-2 defeat away at Charlton Athletic after an absorbing encounter at The Valley which saw Peter Taylor's side come so close to snatching a draw after a spirited second-half comeback.
The visitors held firm against the former Premiership side for the opening 20 minutes but came unstuck with a quickfire double from the Addicks, with Christian Dailly's header and Nicky Bailey's close range finish handing Charlton a two-goal lead.
However, Chris Zebroski's looping header at the end of a sparkling passing move gave the Blues hope before the half-time interval, although Miguel Llera restored the two-goal cushion in the second period before Zebroski's second goal of the game set up a grandstand finale.
Wanderers then pressed the home side well and truly onto the back foot and forced several goal-line clearances, with Jon-Paul Pittman and Luke Oliver both coming close in the final moments, before the full-time whistle brought to an end a fantastic opening game in the new campaign.
Peter Taylor started with a 4-5-1 formation with new boys Michael Duberry, Chris Westwood, Adam Smith, Lewis Montrose and Stuart Green all taking place in the starting XI, while the Blues boss admitted that Luke Oliver and Jon-Paul Pittman were "desperately unlucky" to miss out on a starting place.
A minute's applause for the sad death of Sir Bobby Robson was impeccably observed before the Blues kicked off the new campaign on a glorious day in south-east London, and the opening fifteen minutes were fairly even as both sides got to grips with the rigours of competitive football after a three-month break.
But the home side soon cranked up the pressure, and left-back Kelly Youga fired into the side-netting when a cross appeared to be the better option, before Chris Westwood produced a fine block to deny Lloyd Sam after the winger had jinked into the box.
Scott Shearer produced a smart save moments later to turn Nicky Bailey's 25-yard drive behind for a corner, but the stalemate was short-lived as Christian Dailly rose highest to mark his debut with the opening goal for the home side.
Wycombe were shell-shocked, and the lead was doubled two minutes later when another debutant, Frazer Richardson, bombed into the box and cut the ball back for Nicky Bailey to hammer the ball into the roof of the net, giving Charlton what seemed to be an unassailable lead.
The next 20 minutes were far too comfortable for the home side, who knocked the ball around with ease and kept the Blues at bay, but one passing move of sheer class from the visitors resulted in a goal which would kick-start the game. Lewis Montrose, Stuart Green and John Mousino were all involved as the ball was worked out to Craig Woodman, and the left-back's cross was inch-perfect, allowing Chris Zebroski to send a stunning looping header over the keeper and into the net.
All of a sudden, Charlton looked rattled, and the half-time break came at a good time for them as the Blues looked as though they believed they were strong enough to compete.
This theme continued in the first few minutes of the second period, but another poor goal from a set-piece allowed the Addicks to restore the two-goal cushion. Jonjo Shelvey's corner was flicked on by Matt Harrold and Miguel Llera was afforded the freedom of the six-yard area to bundle the ball home and put Charlton out of sight - or so they thought.
The introduction of Jon-Paul Pittman and Stuart Beavon completely changed the complexion of the game, and the attacking duo scared the life out of Dailly and Llera for the remainder of the match. All of a sudden, the Blues looked far more threatening, and a deflected cross from JP almost found its way into the net before Kelly Youga scooped the ball clear from off the line.
Pittman and Beavon, along with wing wizards Phillips and Zebroski, were causing all sorts of problems, and prompted the Addicks to relieve the pressure by bringing big-money strikers Andy Gray and Izale McLeod off the bench, sparking a rare spell of pressure from the home side in which McLeod sent the ball roll agonisingly across the six-yard box and just beyond the reach of his new strike partner Gray.
On 72 minutes, Wanderers reduced the deficit courtesy of an outstanding through-ball from Stuart Beavon, who sent Chris Zebroski one-on-one with the keeper, and the forward kept his nerve to slide the ball into the net and prompt wild celebrations from the impressive visiting support, who began to believe that their side could more than compete with the former Premiership side.
The goal produced a frantic final 20 minutes. Moments later, an agonising goalmouth scramble saw Duberry, Beavon and Westwood all come close to finding a leveller, but the Charlton defence were piled onto the goal-line and somehow cleared the ball from danger, while a rare forage forward from the home side saw Andy Gray round Scott Shearer before seeing his tame effort cleared off the line by Craig Woodman.
Jon-Paul Pittman then sent a powerful header inches over the bar from another perfect cross from Craig Woodman, and at the other end, Shearer needed to be at his best to deny Izale McLeod's stinging drive, but most of the momentum was with Wycombe, and Jon-Paul Pittman will never know how keeper Rob Elliot managed to deny him with a great late save as stoppage time approached.
An absorbing game of football was in danger of being tainted by the home side's time-wasting tactics and niggly challenges which only spurred the Blues on to raise their game, and they came so close to an equaliser in the dying seconds as Luke Oliver, brought on as a sub to specifically attack a corner, headed just over the bar with Scott Shearer also forward to try and force a leveller.
It wasn't to be, and the full-time whistle sounded to relieved cheers from the home side and proud applause from the visiting supporters, who would have left the ground in little doubt that their side will have no trouble competing in this league if they can play like they did in the second-half on a weekly basis.
Football is back, and we could have barely asked for a more thrilling encounter to kick things off. The result may not have been ideal, but the Blues have arrived in League One in style - bring on Leeds United next Saturday.Reaction from Peter Taylor and Chris Zebroski to follow soon.