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Three years of Gareth the gaffer

24 September 2015

We look back at the managerial career of Gareth Ainsworth, who celebrates three years in charge of the club today.

It was a weekend that was supposed to be a celebration of the Chairboys' 125-year history, but the champagne was turned flat by a 1-0 home defeat to AFC Wimbledon on Saturday 22nd September which spelled the end of Gary Waddock's tenure.

The following Monday - 125 years to the day since the club's first ever fixture against the Wycombe Nose Club - Gareth Ainsworth was asked by the board to take over as caretaker manager, a role which was later made permanent after a successful upturn in form.

READ: Gareth's three years in numbers

The evening of Ainsworth's appointment as caretaker saw Martin O'Neill return to Adams Park for a special event to mark the club's milestone, and few supporters in the Vere Suite that night would have envisaged that the new manager would go on to emulate the Irishman's achievement in taking the club to Wembley, or indeed receive a League 2 Manager of the Year award from O'Neill himself.

But while these past three years haven't always been plain sailing for the former QPR man, Ainsworth has transformed his iconic status from his final days as a player into a proud reputation as one of the country's best up-and-coming managers, with the support of everyone around him.

His first game at the helm seems a lifetime ago, stepping out at Dagenham & Redbridge in his training kit to oversee a 3-0 defeat with a young squad patched together during a major injury crisis. It was the performance of Josh Scowen - recalled from a loan spell in non-league - which provided a light at the end of a darkening tunnel after a difficult run of results.

Ainsworth's home debut in charge came in a 1-1 midweek draw with Plymouth Argyle, and there was finally a home win for the Blues to celebrate with a 2-1 victory over Torquay United, which was followed by a charity event in the Vere Suite where Gareth performed on stage with a live rock band.

Wins at Portsmouth in the Johnstone's Paint Trophy and Fleetwood Town in the league continued the feelgood factor but the honeymoon effect wore off with more injury headaches contributing to a run of seven games without victory, sending the Blues to the foot of the table.

By this point, Ainsworth had been installed as full-time manager on a deal until the end of the season, and he proved his credentials by masterminding a shock 3-2 win at Rotherham United which sparked a sequence of nine wins from 14 games.

That put Wycombe in the frame for a previously unthinkable play-off spot having looked serious relegation candidates a few weeks earlier, and a mid-table finish was secured with a popular 1-0 win at Oxford as the Blues lost just twice in their final seven fixtures.

The last game of the season was Ainsworth's 600th and final match as a player, hanging up his boots after the 1-1 draw with former club Port Vale to help him concentrate fully on his managerial career.

His first summer in charge resulted in a reshuffle of his squad with a mix of youth and experience coming on board to bolster a promising young group which was blossoming under his tutelage, with the likes of Matt Ingram, Anthony Stewart and Josh Scowen becoming the first names on the teamsheet.

After an indifferent start to the 2013/14 season, Ainsworth's men looked to be shaping up nicely by the end of autumn, sitting in a play-off spot following a 1-0 win at Bristol Rovers. However, it was to be a winter of discontent with just one league win in four months sending the Chairboys to the wrong end of the table and facing a real battle to stay in the division.

Important wins over Chesterfield, Exeter and Hartlepool kept the club's head above water but an alarming slide in the final month of the season took matters out of Wycombe's hands. They needed to win at Torquay on the final day and hope for a favour elsewhere... and the footballing gods were smiling on Ainsworth that glorious day in Devon as Bristol Rovers slipped up to ensure the Chairboys remained in the Football League.

That afternoon was the catalyst in a huge change at the club in terms of the philosophy and culture that Ainsworth was able to instill, and he set about making improvements not just in terms of his player recruitment but the tactical structures and hard work ethic that he chose to implement. That came from the top, as he and his coaching staff took it upon themselves to renovate the training ground over the summer to create a more professional working environment for all.

And everything clicked together like clockwork as the Blues began the 2014/15 with a tremendous run of form, taking them to the top of the league in October and returning there for Christmas, earning Ainsworth a series of Manager of the Month nominations along the way.

Sales of key players Josh Scowen and Paris Cowan-Hall only tested his strength as a manager and he was able to maintain an incredible level of consistency, holding the best away record in the division, losing just eight times all season and ending the campaign with the club's best ever points total in the Football League, as well as being named Manager of the Month for March.

It wasn't quite enough to land an automatic promotion spot which would have been beyond the supporters' wildest dreams on that day in Torquay, but a triumphant two-legged play-off win over Plymouth enabled Gareth to lead his team out at Wembley in the final, and he collected the prestigious Manager of the Year award just a few days later.

Early indications this season suggest last year was no fluke with Ainsworth again taking his team to the upper echelons of the division, while his continued development of players on and off the pitch gains more and more admirers from coaches, supporters and journalists right across the footballing world.

His 62 victories from 157 games gives him an impressive 39.5% win record and his three-year tenure is the 11th longest of the 92 current Premier and Football League managers, also making him the fifth longest-serving manager in the club's history.

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