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Interviews

Gareth: Wheels is our Swiss Army Knife

Boss pays tribute to versatile midfielder.

9 December 2021

Gareth Ainsworth has hailed the impact of versatile midfielder David Wheeler in recent matches, citing his arrival onto the pitch as a substitute during Tuesday's 2-1 win over Burton Albion as a significant moment in the match.

Wheeler, 31, has had a stop-start season, missing the first few weeks through illness and featuring mostly from the bench, but has stepped up to the plate in the absence of Josh Scowen and helped shore up the midfield as well as making vital contributions in both boxes.

Speaking to the local media on Thursday morning, his manager said: "I think Wheels coming on was a turning point in the game on Tuesday. In the first half we were all over them and did a lot of damage, but the game swung back 50/50 in the second half and could've gone either way.

"When Wheels came on, the game changed right in our favour, and that's the mark of the man. He's unbelievable. It was a tough decision to leave him out of the starting 11 because he was phenomenal at Plymouth and Sheffield Wednesday, but as a manager you have to make these decisions and I just felt Anis (Mehmeti) and Garath (McCleary) playing together would open Burton up, which they did.

"When I told Wheels before the game that he'd be on the bench, he said it's your decision and I will back you whatever. He said if we win 5-0 and he doesn't play, he'll still be the happiest man in the changing room, and to have someone like that is incredible.

"We call him the Swiss Army Knife because we back him to do any job on the pitch. He's a leader, he's very intelligent, and we're lucky to have him."

The boss also revealed the background behind Chris Forino's emergence into the side, with the young defender making a surprise appearance in defence on Tuesday in the absence of Anthony Stewart and Ryan Tafazolli, and going on to put in a man-of-the-match winning performance.

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"You have to trust your players, and the young lads are here for a reason. They know they have to be ready to play at any time, and it was great for Chris to get that opportunity. He was alongside two great players in Jack (Grimmer) and Joe (Jacobson) - you couldn't wish to make your league debut alongside two better professionals - and they helped him a lot.

"Chris came here to make up the numbers at first, if I'm honest," Ainsworth admitted. "We were short of numbers for a trialist game and Sam Grace knew of him, so brought him in. As soon as I saw him play in that game, I said let's get him training with us.

"He'd been at university and pursuing his studies so he wasn't in perfect shape at first, so we got him in the gym working on his posture and strength, and a lot of credit goes to our medical team of Cian, Aly and Isaac for helping him get up to fitness.

"I was delighted for him to make his league debut, and he came up to me first thing this morning and said thank you for the opportunity. He's got that humility about him and I'm really pleased and proud of him."

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