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Match Report

 

Posted Sat 27 Mar 10 at 21:46 PM

REPORT: GAZ HANDS BLUES A POINT

Gareth Ainsworth's controversial equaliser in stoppage time earned Wanderers a well-deserved point at rivals Colchester United and gave the Blues a much-needed boost in their battle for League One survival.

In scenes worthy of the drama and scandals which have become a regular fixture in clashes between the old foes, Ainsworth infuriated United players and staff as he bundled home Matt Phillips' cross with a combination of arm and head to level the scores and spark delirious scenes amongst the Wycombe fans behind the goal.

The so-called 'derby' had started in a relatively tame manner, with neither side creating many clear-cut chances in the opening 45 minutes, but Ian Henderson's splendid finish on 58 minutes sparked the game into life as the U's looked to seal a first victory in six games.

But the never-say-die attitude instilled by manager Gary Waddock into his team worked its magic again as they threw everything at the hosts and got their just rewards - albeit in fortunate circumstances - as the clock ticked towards full-time.

Waddock opted to keep faith with the side that drew 2-2 against Exeter City the previous week, which meant that Alan Bennett had to settle for a place on the bench after rejoining the club on loan from Brentford on deadline day.

And the decision to keep Chris Westwood in the starting line-up was justified within 30 seconds as the centre-back produced a marvellous last-ditch challenge to deny U's frontman Steven Gillespie, who had been set through on goal by David Prutton.

At the other end, United's backline was equally resilient, particularly with the class of Birmingham City loanee Franck Queudrue and the aerial strength of Magnus Okuonghae keeping the Blues' attack well shackled. However, Ainsworth was presented with a chance on nine minutes when Kevin Betsy's clever free-kick found him unmarked in the box, but the veteran's header flashed just past the upright.

On an awkward pitch, both sides became embroiled in a midfield scrap and had to wait until the 33rd minute for the next attempt at goal, when Prutton's curling effort comfortably cleared the crossbar.

A moment later, Gillespie missed a glorious chance to open the scoring when he towered above Dean Keates to meet Phil Ifil's cross from the right, but the striker's header flashed over the bar from close range.

It wasn't one-way traffic though, as Wycombe mustered the first effort on target just before half-time when Matt Harrold's downward header was held by keeper Ben Williams after Craig Woodman's cross was diverted into his path.

Within minutes of the restart, the 5,593 supporters inside the stadium were treated to more excitement than they had witnessed in the entirety of the first period, as firstly Gillespie fired over the bar after turning smartly on the edge of the box, before a piledriver by Ainsworth was bravely blocked by the diving Queudrue.

Prutton and John Mousinho then both saw long-range efforts sail over the bar before Stuart Beavon produced a fine save from Williams with a powerful drive from 25 yards, with Adam Hinshelwood glancing the resulting corner just past the far post.

But Wanderers were left to rue their missed chances on 58 minutes when Henderson opened the scoring in impressive style, collecting a deep cross from Kem Izzet on his chest before firing home past Tom Heaton from a difficult angle.

Wycombe needed a response, and manager Waddock reacted by swapping Mousinho for Matt Bloomfield and adapting the formation to provide a more attacking outlook.

Chances were difficult to come by against a determined United defence, but Waddock refused to throw the towel in and introduced Matt Phillips and Jon-Paul Pittman into the fray in a bid to draw level.

And Pittman should have restored parity moments after coming on when he and Ainsworth went for the same ball from a Dean Keates corner, and Pittman headed wide from close range.

But this Wycombe side will not lie down, and as they poured bodies forward, they grabbed an equaliser in dramatic fashion when Ainsworth flung himself at a Phillips cross to guide the ball home.

As the midfielder celebrated in style in front of the ecstatic visiting crowd, the United players appealed with fury to the officials but to no avail, as the referee allowed the goal to stand and soon called time on a game which lived up to the expectations of a feisty 'derby' encounter.

The veteran midfielder later admitted that the ball struck his arm en route to goal, but he was in no mood to apologise as the goal keeps alive Wanderers' hopes of survival:

"I threw myself at it," he said. "It skimmed my head, but then it hit my hand. I didn't mean it - I just bundled the ball in. The arm might have changed the direction of the ball!" he joked.

A Facebook group dedicated to 'Gareth Ainsworth's hand' had already attracted more than 50 members by Saturday night, as Blues supporters paid tribute to their new hero, who is now just one away from a career total of 100 goals in all competitions.

Coming soon: Reaction from Gary Waddock and the man himself - Gareth Ainsworth.

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