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Flashback: Early Owls meeting

Wanderers former Media Chief Alan Hutchinson, now Chairman of the Wycombe Wanderers Ex-Players Association, takes a look back at a memorable encounter 16 years ago with today’s opponents, Sheffield Wednesday.

29 October 2020

We are looking back 16 years to our very first trip to Hillsborough to meet Sheffield Wednesday on 20th January 2004.

We had lost 2-1 at Adams Park earlier in the season. The teams have met on a total of four occasions previously and the one point we gained in the match at Hillsborough has been the only one to date. Back then both clubs were in Division 1; Wanderers were managed by former Arsenal and England captain Tony Adams, and Wednesday by Chris Turner. At the time of the match Owls were just below half way and the Blues were bottom of the table.

It was an amazing start to a terrific match between two sides looking for all three points. Wanderers surged off right from the start, and after 100 seconds they took the lead, thanks to the bravery of Ian Simpemba.

Owls keeper David Lucas spilt Darren Currie’s free-kick. Simpemba took the ball forward and volleyed it goalwards, it was blocked and Simpemba threw himself forward to try and head the ball home. In doing so he received a very bad blow on the neck from Owls defender Paul Smith, trying to keep the ball out. The clash was accidental, and quite rightly the referee did not take action.

Simpemba was stretchered off and taken to hospital, with what looked like a very serious neck injury. As treatment was dealt with on the pitch it held the game up until he was replaced by Steve Brown. Ian was totally unaware he had scored his first ever goal for the Blues. The 19,596 crowd were absolutely stunned to witness such action inside the first two minutes. 

When the game restarted Danny Senda had a great chance to make it 2-0 but his attempted lob dropped over the bar. The Blues' counter-attacking style caused a lot of problems for the home side, but Wednesday contributed to some good counter attacks as they pressed for the equaliser.

The Owls went close on 25 minutes when former Manchester United striker Mark Robins turned on a sixpence to smash a ferocious shot against the bar from a tight angle. Blues front man Jermaine McSporran used his pace on the break and only a superb one handed save by Lucas kept the score at 1-0 going into half time.

The second half continued in exactly the same fashion, both sides eager to push goal-wards. Wycombe looking to increase their lead while Wednesday searched for an equaliser.

It was Wednesday who struck; they should have been 2-0 behind, but they grabbed the equaliser. Sub Terry Cooke, who came onto the right wing to test Wanderers' teenage defender Andy Reilly, had been on the pitch just four minutes when he collected Derek Geary’s throw in and whipped a cross into the box.  The Owls' top scorer Adam Proudlock survived a challenge by Stuart Nethercott before lashing home his ninth of the season on 62 minutes.

Proudlock should have had his second three minutes later when he raced forward but lashed his shot into the side netting.

Blues front man Nathan Tyson, who had just agreed a month’s loan from Reading, was twice denied by keeper Lucas as Wanderers hunted for all three points. Wednesday also had chances, Mark Wilson drilling his shot just wide of the post with only three minutes remaining.

After a highly entertaining encounter, Tony Adams commented: “We did not perform like a bottom of the table side. We have set our standards now. I am disappointed to only get a point; we should have won. I feel sorry for the lads, they worked hard and showed what they are capable of. We shall battle right to the last. There are 17 games to go and we shall take one at a time. My battlers can avoid the drop.”

The good news was that Ian Simpemba was able to travel back on the team coach and after treatment was in much better shape. At the end of the match Wanderers were still bottom of the league and nine points adrift from safety.

SHEFFIELD WEDNESDAY: Lucas, Geary, Paul Smith, Dean Smith, Barry-Murphy, Haslam, Ndumba-Nsungu (Cook 58), Wilson, Quinn, Proudlock, Robins.

Not used: Pressman, Bromby, Armstrong, Shaw.

WYCOMBE WANDERERS: Bevan, Senda, Reilly, Nethercott, Marshall, Currie, Bulman, Simpemba (Brown 6), Simpson, Tyson, McSporran.

Not used: Williams, Faulconbridge, Holligan, Bloomfield.

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