Wycombe bounced back from successive defeats with an important 3-2 success at Carlisle United, staving off a late fightback after racing into a three-goal lead.
The return of Paul Hayes in attack provided the 186 travelling Blues fans with a boost ahead of kick-off, as he took his place alongside Matt McClure and Fred Onyedinma while Matt Bloomfield replaced Peter Murphy in midfield.
Wanderers looked intent on getting back to their free-scoring form from earlier in the campaign and McClure headed Sam Wood’s early cross over the bar before the same striker missed the target with two further efforts as the Cumbrians’ defence struggled to get to grips with him.
The opening goal looked inevitable and so it came when Matt Ingram’s long free-kick into the box was returned to the danger zone by McClure and Aaron Pierre was on hand to bravely nod home under pressure from the onrushing debutant keeper Raphael Spiegel. Pierre had opened the scoring in the reverse fixture at Adams Park in August and it took his tally for the season to three, although a yellow card collected later in the game means he’ll now miss the next two fixtures through suspension.
Onyedinma then saw a header well saved by Spiegel as Ainsworth’s men finished the half well on top, and although Brad Potts fired a rare chance wide for the hosts soon after the break, the lead was doubled courtesy of the magic feet of Millwall man Onyedinma.
When he received the ball on the left wing, there appeared to be little danger but that’s a dangerous assumption to make with this man, as he mesmerised two defenders before breaking into the box and curling an effort into the far corner for his fifth goal in Wanderers colours.
Within moments, the Blues were seemingly out of sight when a superb flowing passing move resulted in Bloomfield laying the ball into the path of McClure, and his confident finish flew past Spiegel to rack up a third goal – Wycombe’s 26th goal away from home this season, which is the highest in the division.
However, Carlisle breathed new hope into the game when an inventive corner routine gave Kyle Dempsey the room to fire home from 15 yards, and they had even more reason to believe the comeback was on when Charlie Wyke collapsed to the floor in the box after receiving contact from Alfie Mawson, and Danny Grainger converted the penalty.
In a bid to complete to secure an unlikely draw, United manager Keith Curle threw giant striker Mark Beck onto the pitch but within 60 seconds he was running for the shower after lunging in with a two-footed tackle on Sido Jombati, earning a red card which alleviated the growing pressure on the visitors.
Six minutes of stoppage time came and went as the Wanderers held on for a ninth away win of the season to maintain their spot in the top three, on a day where Shrewsbury and Southend both lost away from home.
Wycombe: Ingram, Jombati, Jacobson, Mawson, Pierre, Bean (Murphy 89), Bloomfield, Wood, Onyedinma (Ephraim 73), Hayes (Craig 90), McClure.
Unused subs: Richardson, Rowe, Fletcher, Holloway.
Carlisle: Spiegel, Young, Grainger, O’Hanlon, Brough, Meppen-Walter (Amoo 31), Dempsey, Potts, Sweeney (Beck 85), Asamoah (Rigg 66), Wyke.
Unused subs: Hanford, Archibald-Henville, Kearns, Griffith.