Adrian Wood recalls the club's best ever points tally in a Football League season.Part 25 - Season 2014/15 – Achievement far beyond expectation
After being so close to losing Football League status just a few months earlier, realistically all connected with the club would have been content with “mid-table mediocrity” when embarking on the 2014/15 campaign. However Gareth Ainsworth, despite working to the tightest budget, had introduced no fewer than 11 new players. That new-look squad was to ensure that the 25th season at Adams Park was indeed one of the most memorable in the club’s history.
Remembering his prolific loan period in 2012, fans were delighted by the news of Paul Hayes’ return following his exit from Scunthorpe. The 30-year old was installed as captain and was to prove an inspired leader. The rebuilt back five was to be the strength of the side. In front of Matt Ingram new full-backs Sido Jombati and Joe Jacobson (from Cheltenham and Shrewsbury respectively) proved talented acquisitions whilst the central defensive partnership of Aaron Pierre (now a permanent Wycombe player) and the rookie loanee from Brentford, Alfie Mawson, quickly gelled to form a formidable force – at both ends of the pitch. Former Cardiff youth striker Aaron Holloway arrived whilst Danny Rowe returned again on loan from Rotherham together with team mate Nicky Walker.
In pre-season, a crowd of almost 8,000 saw a Chelsea XI win 5-0 at Adams Park in Matt Bloomfield’s testimonial. Off the field Don Woodward stood down as chairman to be replaced by recently appointed director Andrew Howard. The new chairman’s company Beechdean Ice Cream was revealed as Wanderers' new shirt sponsor for the next two seasons. Despite early exits from both Capital Cup and Johnstone’s Paint Trophy at the hands of Millwall and Coventry respectively, by late October the side topped the table with just two defeats from the first 14 league fixtures. It was essential however that the small squad remained fit and injury-free. The limitations were illustrated when for the televised home fixture with Burton, only four substitutes could be named.
In October new broke that Wasps were set to leave as tenants after Coventry City councillors agreed to sell the Ricoh Arena operating company ACL to Wasps RFC. The move was a hasty one with Wasps’ final game at Wycombe being a European tie against Castres Olympique on 14th December. The rugby club had been contracted to play at Adams Park until the end of the 2014/15 season.
Wycombe moved into 2015 in second place with just three defeats from 23 league games. They were equal on points with leaders Shrewsbury who had a marginally superior goal difference. The side had no cup distractions, AFC Wimbledon having won 1-0 at Adams Park in the FA Cup second round. Player movement saw the sad retirement of Gary Doherty but there was good news that Mawson’s loan spell had been extended to the end of the season. Paris Cowan-Hall moved to Millwall with Fred Onyedinma joining on loan from the Lions for the remainder of the season. The 18-year old made an immediate impression with eight goals in his first 14 appearances for the Chairboys. Former skipper Stuart Lewis departed to Ebbsfleet and Josh Scowen, who had been in splendid form in midfield, was sold to Barnsley. Manager Ainsworth signed a new five and a half year deal running until June 2020 while two further influential players arrived on loan from Brentford – midfielder Sam Saunders and full back Nico Yennaris.
The club went 12 games without defeat before back to back home defeats at the hands of Plymouth and Newport saw them in third place, five points adrift of Shrewsbury and Burton. Ingram saved a stoppage time penalty to ensure Wanderers came out with a 2-2 draw against Stevenage at Adams Park before a first minute header from Sam Wood earned a 1-0 home win over Shrewsbury. The home fixture against Accrington in mid-March was Wycombe’s 500th home game in the Football League but the midweek home hoodoo (now extending to three years) continued in a 2-2 draw. Later that month the 3-2 win at Luton was Wycombe’s 1000th Football League game. The victory was the 11th away win of the season, becoming the best ever for the club since joining the Football League in 1993.
By now Jombati was ruled out of the remainder of the season through injury. Easter was not a good time with a home defeat to Oxford followed by a 0-1 defeat at Burton. The team bounced back however with home wins over lowly Cheltenham followed by a dramatic 1-0 win over Exeter with Hayes netting a 102nd minute penalty winner to finally achieve that long awaited home midweek victory. The final home fixture against Morecambe however ultimately proved disastrous for automatic promotion aspirations. The squad was down to bare bones. Already without Jombati, Pierre was suspended and the impressive Saunders was injured in the pre-match warm-up. Again there were just four substitutes named – two of whom (Fletcher and Lynch) had no previous Football League experience. Wycombe failed to create many chances and the visitors took all three points with an 86th minute goal from Paul Mullin.
Wycombe were now down to fifth. To achieve automatic promotion they had to win at Northampton and pray that Southend lost at Morecambe and Bury failed to win at already relegated Tranmere. That dream almost happened. Wycombe won dramatically 3-2 at Sixfields, Southend lost 1-3 at Morecambe, but Bury won 1-0 at Tranmere. This meant Wycombe finished fourth, a single point behind Bury. Ingram was injured at Northampton leaving Lynch to make his first start in the play-off first leg at Plymouth. A fine team performance saw Wycombe go 3-0 up but two late goals put Plymouth back in the tie. There were joyous scenes at Adams Park five days later when early goals from Hayes and Mawson restored Wycombe’s control. Ryan Brunt reduced the deficit but Wycombe were Wembley bound. The final against Southend is a well-known story. Losing Saunders in the very first minute probably meant it was not to be Wycombe’s day. Yes, tears flowed at the end but 2014/15 will always be remembered for a fourth place finish and a Wembley appearance. Who could have foreseen such success nine months earlier?
This article first appeared in the club's matchday programme on Saturday 30th April 2016.