Rich Judges kicks off a new series of 'Top Fives', beginning with some of Martin O'Neill's most famous matches in charge of the club.
If you, like me, were lucky enough to witness the O’Neill era at Adams Park, there would have been a glut of wonderful performances and high points to choose from. The success he achieved was mesmeric and intoxicating.
There are many magic moments during his tenure; ones that stand out in particular are:
1. Wanderers in the FA Cup against West Bromwich Albion (1992)
The first game had ended in dramatic 2-2 draw at Adams Park. Sky TV was again present to televise the replay, with supporters and impartial viewers keen to see more of the same enthralling play.
Nearly 5,000 swelled the crowd at the home of the Baggies to see if Wycombe would earn a choice third-round tie with West Ham United. It was all the more poignant for ex-Baggies trainee Andy Kerr, who came back into the side after serving a suspension. Wycombe’s chances were improved with the news that West Brom were to be without future Chairboys striker Simon Garner through injury.
Manager O’Neill chose to play a five-man midfield with Steve Thompson performing particularly well in the first half; he would thread a pass through to Keith Scott on the 28 minute mark who bent a right-footed volley against the upright. At the other end, Paul Hyde’s goal was tested by Gary Strodder who powerfully headed against the underside of the crossbar.
The game restarted with Wycombe attacking the goal towards their own fans, and there was a feeling amongst Chairboys fans that the team could actually win this. Thompson was again a real threat to West Brom's goal with a header from a Steve Guppy free-kick headed off the line on the 49 minute mark. The Baggies then started to show real initiative and began to press.
With just eight minutes remaining West Brom sealed the win, when Guppy lost possession close to his own box and Bob Taylor snuck in and whipped a low struck shot past the outstretched Hyde.
Wycombe pushed on for an equaliser which left them open to a counter-attack, and the best chance to equalise was missed when substitute Simon Hutchinson pushed the ball past two men on the right wing and crossed well to the near post. Scott flicked the ball on and Guppy was inches away from rectifying his mistake. It was agony as the final whistle blew moments later.
The 17,460 crowd gave Wycombe a standing ovation, realising that they had seen a special game where a Football League team was nearly matched all the way by a Conference team. Plaudits came in from an array of national pundits for the performance.
Martin O'Neill said in an interview after the match: "After all my years in football, I'm still surprised to lose any game in which my team has played so well. I was even thinking ahead to how we'd play West Ham, and then we ruined it all by giving away a bad goal."
He went on to say "I still feel the hardest thing for us to do is getting out of the Vauxhall Conference. It's the toughest thing the club will ever have to do in its history"
Full-time: West Brom 1 Wycombe 0
2. Wycombe vs Runcorn – FA Trophy Final (1993)
This game was the prelude to Wycombe’s entrance to the Football League, a show-case encounter which saw 30,000 fans at Wembley to watch Wycombe vs Runcorn.
The Wycombe team had to wait until the morning to find out if they made the final 13; Dennis Greene and Anton Vircavs were left out as was local hero Mark West. Steve Thompson had beaten an injury scare to play up front with Keith Scott.
Nerves on the pitch were quickly settled as Wycombe broke the deadlock after two minutes. A foul on Scott on the left side of the penalty area gave Jason Cousins a free-kick opportunity; he duly delivered with a low ball past the Runcorn wall into the far corner of the net. A celebration that has entered Wycombe folklore was to follow, as Cousins rushed to the pitchside Wycombe fans and they roared appreciation and Cousins re-joined Scott to join in with a bizarre dancing ritual.
Wanderers then gave themselves a two goal cushion on the 20 minute mark, Thompson racing clear on the left flank and being brought down by Graham Hill. Carroll swung in the free-kick towards the near post and Andy Kerr stooped to connect with his head from six yards. Once again the Wycombe faithful burst into mad celebrations.
Runcorn pulled a goal back soon after with Steve Shaughnessy scoring four minutes before the break, and Scott could have added another if his shot had taken a more kind deflection off the crossbar moments later. At the break, the tie was finely balanced at 2-1.
After the restart Ken McKenna came close to levelling, but a good save from Hyde kept his effort at bay.
Guppy was the provider for the third goal when his corner was nodded in by Thompson on the 59th minute, making it 3-1 and leaving the Wanderers firmly in control.
O’Neill shuffled his cards after the Thompson’s goal, bringing on Hakan Hayrettin to replace Simon Hutchinson, thereby allowing Dave Carroll to move out into his favoured wide position.
Runcorn’s final chance to breach the Wycombe goal came in the 80th minute mark when McKenna again hit a pummelling shot at Hyde; the keeper did especially well to claw the ball away. The clearance sparked a claim from McKenna that the ball had crossed the line, but his appeals were laughed away.
Scott and Thompson played an exchange releasing Cousins for a rare run forward; he pushed the ball out wide to Carroll who looped a ball into the box towards the far post. Keeper Williams fluffed his catch and directed the ball in the far corner of the net, Carroll duly claimed the goal and the Wycombe bench roared with celebration. The final whistle blew and in a fitting tribute to injured skipper Glyn Creaser, it was him who was chosen to climb the Wembley steps and lift the trophy.
Full Time: Wycombe 4 – Runcorn 1
3. Wycombe vs Preston North End – Division Three Play-Off Final (1994)
Wycombe were aiming for their third Wembley final since 1990 and as it turned out, it was a day to be remembered for the players, staff and fans alike.
The newly built home for the Wanderers, Adams Park, had seen swelling crowds by recent successes, raising from an average attendance of 1,200 when O’Neill took over in 1990 to over 6,000 in 1994.
Wembley was magnificent on the fine summer’s day when Wycombe arrived to challenge Preston North End for the Play-Off final on the 28th of May 1994. Over 40,000 fans from both sides packed into the stadium; like so many show-piece games, tickets were at a premium with the fans bringing their friends and family to roar the teams on.
Wycombe dominated the first 20 minutes of the game, but couldn’t find the net. Steve Thompson and Steve Guppy both missed chances before the unthinkable happened and Preston scored on 32 minutes. A throw in from the right was crossed in by Tony Ellis and thumped past Paul Hyde with a spectacular overhead kick from Ian Bryson. Preston fans were busy celebrating when just a few minutes later Glyn Creaser knocked the ball up-field to Simon Garner who played in Thompson down the left wing. Thompson found an inch of space and tucked the ball past Steve Woods in the Preston net.
The lead would again change when Preston pressured Wycombe with a series of corners and throw-ins towards the break, Ellis again the provider as Paul Raynor thumped an un-stoppable shot past Hyde. Wycombe were in shock and had the half-time break to sit and face their fears of missing out on promotion.
Chairboys fans had to wait two minutes into the new half before hope of an upset were alive and well when Titterton hit a thundering ball out from defence which Garner deftly controlled before unleashing a left-footed volley past Woods from the left side of the penalty area.
Garner once again played a part in Wycombe’s third goal. Guppy picked the ball up on the left wing, finding Thompson the ball moved swiftly to Garner who was in a central position. Garner played a precise ball to Dave Carroll without looking up; Carroll converted with ease past the stranded Preston keeper.
Wanderers fans soon realised that promotion was within their grasp, however Preston were always likely to make something happen, so a nervous tension descended on the stadium.
Preston pressed and forced a goal-mouth scramble on the 72 minute, but the ball was cleared by Jason Cousins forward to Carroll on the right wing. He picked the ball up in his own half and then made a trademark mazy run forward, with options to either side, but Carroll carried on towards the goal. He cut-back in on his right foot and hit a shot which clipped the left post and into the back of the net.
The Wycombe following went into joyous pandemonium and celebrations continued as both sets of fans realised that the game was as good as over.
Garner has a 50 yard chipped effort ruled out for offside unfairly late on in the game, however it couldn’t spoil the day and Wycombe got their just desserts.
'When you consider we are a Third Division side with eight of the team which won promotion and three free transfers thrown in, I really think we were absolutely class,' O'Neill said.
Full Time: Wycombe 4 – Preston 2
4. Carlisle vs Wycombe – First game in the Football League (1993)
Wycombe made their Football League debut on the 14th of August 1993.
Blues fans were not dealt the easiest of away matches to attend as it was Carlisle first up for the Wanderers. 7,752 turned up at Brunton Park, swelled by over 1,500 Wycombe fans hoping for a good start in a new league.
Steve Thompson was honoured by being the first Wanderer ever to kick a ball in the Football League as he kicked off in the bright Cumbrian sun. But Wycombe’s nerves showed and it was the hosts who took the league when George Oghani’s cross was slotted in at the far post by Rod Thomas.
Resiliency had proved to be Wycombe’s foundation in the Conference and so it continued in Division Three, and an equaliser was soon to come as Wycombe launched a counter-attack. Dave Carroll delivered a peach of a ball into the box and Keith Scott’s header ricocheted off the crossbar, before the ball was cleared away and United defender Chris Curran gained the infamy of being the first player to score a goal for Wycombe in the Football League.
The goal boosted Wycombe’s morale and they left the pitch at half-time in good spirits. The Blues started the second period far more confidently, unfortunately Duncan Horton was injured while challenging Darren Edmunson and had to be replaced by Simon Hutchinson. Martin O’Neill changed the formation to suit the change and in the 76th minute Jason Cousins’ throw-in from the right was flicked across the face of goal by Carroll with Steve Guppy at the far post to guide the ball into the net. ‘Gupps’ ran to where the Wycombe fans were on the far side of the pitch to celebrate.
Wycombe were denied a famous victory when, with eight minutes remaining, a Carlisle corner was cleverly back-heeled by Thomas, finding Curran on the edge of the Wycombe area where he drove the ball past the flailing Paul Hyde.
Speaking after the game Martin O'Neill said "Before the game I would have settled for not being beaten but when we've got 2-1 in front I'm a bit disappointed we've conceded the goal - it doesn't matter now I suppose - we're off the mark." He then added "If that's the sort of thing of thing we're in for in this league, then it's going to be hard for us."
Final Score Carlisle 2 - Wycombe 2
5. Fulham vs Wycombe –Autoglass Trophy; Southern Area Semi-Final (1994)
Wycombe were in their debut season in the Football League, making good progress in the Autoglass Trophy and had reached the southern area semis. Wanderers had already claimed the scalp of Brentford and Cardiff City, before a freak goal from Steve Guppy saw off rivals Colchester United at Layer Road.
Wycombe now travelled to their next opponents Fulham, with around 2,000 Blues fans making the trip to London for a memorable night of football.
Fulham opened the scoring within the first minute when Gary Brazil volleyed from 15 yards after a corner from the left had been headed clear.
Eight minutes later Wycombe almost drew level when Guppy made a mazy run from the left, but Fulham’s keeper Jim Stannard blocked well. Fulham had further chances to extend their lead with Pike firing wide before Baah hit a shot which went inches high of Paul Hyde’s crossbar.
Stannard again saved from a Keith Ryan header minutes later, before Terry Evans went down under a heavy tackle from a Fulham player.
After Evans went off, Jason Cousins took the captain’s armband. Again Wycombe had to make a change due to an injury when Duncan Horton limped off at half-time, with Tim Langford coming on. Martin O’Neill changed the formation and on the 54th minute debutant Simon Garner had a chance shot saved and then flashed another effort just wide.
Wycombe were dominant in the game and their pressure eventually paid off in the 62nd minute when Langford’s run from a Hyde clearance led to a one-on-one with Stannard, with Langford easing the ball into the net. Garner again went close in the dying minutes, before Mr Bailey the referee called the end to 90 minutes.
Wanderers picked up where they left off in extra-time, as a brilliant move from Steve Thompson saw play with Guppy before Langford picked up the ball and laid it off to Carroll, but his shot skimmed the crossbar.
Guppy again turned provider as a ball from the wide-left of midfield was picked up by Langford who thumped a shot in from twenty yards. Fulham came back in to the game with vengeance and only a Cousins clearance was enough to deflect Eckhardt’s effort. It was end-to-end play and Wycombe then had their own effort which Garner hit, but Fulham's Terry Angus stopped the ball on the line.
Fulham finally got their equaliser with only six minutes remaining, and the match was going to be settled by penalties.
Nervous tension settled. Wycombe were first to take a penalty and Langford converted. Hyde pulled off heroics to save Pike’s spot kick. Kerr, Brazil, Carroll and Fulham’s youngster Lee Tierling all then scored their penalties to make the score line 3-2 in Wycombe’s favour.
It was down to Simon Stapleton who chose a short-run up for his kick and Stannard saved well. Hyde spared Stapleton’s grief when he saved Duncan Jupp’s effort. Cousins was to take the last kick, he strode up and placed the ball to Stannard’s right, leaving the goalkeeper no chance. Cousins lapped up the glory before being mobbed by team-mates and staff who turned to pay tribute to the Blues fans on the Putney Terrace.
Full Time: Wycombe 4 – Fulham 2 (on penalties)