Wycombe Wanderers suffered their first league defeat in 14 weeks as James Henry’s first-half strike inflicted a frustrating 1-0 defeat against Oxford United.
The League One leaders went behind after 23 minutes when Henry managed to slot home a rebound from close range and Wycombe’s woes were compounded when Adebayo Akinfenwa was sent off just three minutes later.
Gareth Ainsworth’s side battled resiliently for the remaining 64 minutes with just 10-men, yet their best efforts for an equaliser were thwarted and the Chairboys were forced to leave the Kassam Stadium empty-handed.
Wanderers had fashioned their first chance of the game in the opening minute after Akinfenwa sent Scott Kashket on his way to investigate the Oxford defence, and the forward drifted inside onto his left foot before unleashing a testing effort that stung the hands of Jordan Archer.
With the Chairboys already boasting an injury list, Ainsworth was forced to make an early change with 10 minutes on the clock when Dominic Gape’s afternoon ended prematurely after an incident with Jamie Mackie and the midfielder could no longer continue.
Akinfenwa was the first name in referee Lee Swabey’s notebook as the striker looked to compete for a high aerial ball from Ryan Allsop and accidentally struck Chris Cadden in the face with his leading elbow.
An opportune moment broke for Oxford in the 23rd minute when Cameron Brannagan fired a low effort that Allsop tipped to his left and Henry pounced, and though Allsop was equal to Henry’s first effort, the ball fell kindly for the Oxford forward to strike again and he converted from a tight angle – duly ending our string of five consecutive league clean sheets.
In what was already proving to be a feisty encounter, the Wanderers were reduced to ten men after an altercation broke out following a nasty challenge from John Mousinho on Kashket. Akinfenwa joined the melee and appeared to grab hold of an Oxford player, forcing the referee to produce a second yellow card.
Despite the player disadvantage, Ainsworth’s men were combating their opponents well and proving to be a difficult obstacle to break down. On the 40-minute mark, Oxford’s Tariqe Fosu wiggled his way towards the penalty area and fired an effort through a sea of bodies that provoked an excellent reflex save from Allsop.
The Chairboys goalkeeper had to be at his acrobatic best just seconds later as a looping header from Mousinho had all but doubled Oxford’s advantage until Allsop’s outstretched left-hand managed to claw the ball away.
It was clear that the team needed to display all the fight and spirit that had earned many vital results so far this season, and it was their grit and determination that created an opportunity out of nothing in the 50th minute as Curtis Thompson won his 50/50 which allowed Ofoborh to play in Matt Bloomfield.
With defenders beginning to circle, Bloomfield broke through the challenge of Rob Dickie and raced towards goal but his low strike was saved by Archer.A volume of noise from the travelling supporters developed as the Wanderers began to assert a loose grip on the game, stretching the Oxford defence with balls out wide and into the channels whenever they regained possession.
Wycombe’s attacking influence continued to blossom and this time it was David Wheeler who tested the hands of Archer, with the midfielder rifling an effort that the Oxford keeper could only parry and the on-rushing Bloomfield was inches away from connecting with the follow-up.
The Chairboys still had to be attendant to their defensive duties, however, and vital communication between Sido Jombati and Anthony Stewart ensured Matty Taylor’s goal wouldn’t stand as he strayed into an offside position.
With the fourth official indicating there was just three additional minutes to play, the Wanderers launched a late assault and Jombati did well to flick Charles’ header goalbound, but there was not enough conviction in his shot to beat Archer.
Whilst the defeat leaves a sour taste in the mouth of Ainsworth’s side, results elsewhere mean that the Wanderers’ seven-point advantage at the top of the League One table is still intact over the Christmas period.
Wycombe XI: Allsop, Jombati, Stewart, Charles, Jacobson, Gape (Ofoborh, 10’), Thompson, Bloomfield (Aarons, 80’), Kashket (Smyth, 60’), Wheeler, Akinfenwa
Unused: Yates, Phillips, Freeman, Samuel
Oxford United XI: Archer, Cadden, Dickie, Mousinho, Ruffels, Brannagan (Moore, 85’), Baptiste, Gorrin (Sykes, 45’), Henry, Mackie (Taylor, 68’), Fosu
Unused: Stevens, Hall, Long, Agyei
Attendance: 10,183 (1,803 Wycombe supporters)