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11:06 27th December 2008

Wycombe Wanderers 1-1 City

A buoyant City side went into this match on the back of a convincing 4-1 victory over fellow high-fliers Rochdale, but this had to be seen as Paul Tisdale's side's toughest test of the season to date. That City not only earned a point away at runaway leaders Wycombe, but could be thought to be disappointed not to come away with a win speaks volumes for the credentials of City this season as a serious challenger not just for the playoffs but for automatic promotion.

Despite his brace against Rochdale, Steve Basham was the odd man out as Tisdale decided to utilise his 4-3-3 / 4-5-1 formation. The fit-again Marcus Stewart took Basham's place. So, the line-up was: Jones in goal, Moxey and Tully the full-backs, Edwards and Seaborne in the middle; The midfield trio was Gill, Panther and Harley, with Saunders and Stewart out wide and Adam Stansfield through the middle. On the bench were Marriott, Murray, Basham, McAllister and Sercombe.

The game was barely five minutes old when Referee Gavin Ward became embroiled in controversy. Matt Harrold had burst into the box, and lost control of the ball. As it headed out for a goal kick, Seaborne breathed on him, and Harrold threw himself to the ground. Incredibly, rather than getting his book out, Ward was convinced that Seaborne had shoved Harrold and pointed to the spot. Harrold picked himself up and sent Jones the wrong way.

City had been slow out of the traps prior to the goal, and were still second best for a spell afterwards. While Wycombe sprayed the ball around with a confidence befitting their lofty status, City resorted to hopeful punts upfield that the well-drilled Wycombe defence dealt with comfortably. However, for all their possession, Wycombe failed to test Jones bar a few testing crosses that the City custodian dealt with comfortably. Midway through the half, City finally created a chance and, out of keeping with the passing of both sides, this was an archetypal Route One job. Jones claimed a cross and, seeing the Wycombe defence pushed up, launched a long ball up the middle of the pitch. Stansfield was just beaten to the punch, but the ball fell to Stewart whose rasping drive went over.

City appeared galvanised by now and, helped by a fantastic cacophany of noise from the visiting support, began to impose themselves on the game. Chances remained at a premium, but one effort in particular should have yielded an equaliser. Stewart hung a cross over from the left, Stansfield challenged and the ball fell to Harley. With the keeper advancing Harley slotted past him, only for a defender to make a remarkable clearance at the last second. This would prove to be the last good chance of an enthralling first period.

The second half once again saw City signal their intent, switching to 4-4-2 and pressing forward at every opportunity while Wycombe failed to create any decent opportunities to kill off the game. On 54 minutes Tisdale decided to make a change, bringing on "Supersub" Craig McAllister for the out of sorts Adam Stansfield. The impact was, as in previous matches, almost immediate. City forced a throw on the left. For the first time in the match, Matt Gill decided to utilise his long throw, causing chaos in the box as McAllister's presence made sure the ball bounced and eluded everyone. With his back to goal, Leon Johnson tried to hook the ball clear, only for the ball to rebound off the barrel chest of Manny Panther and into the roof of the net. While the manner of the finish was fortunate, praise is due to Panther for gambling on the ball reaching the far post - something City have often been slightly negligent about.

City sensed blood, and continued to push forward looking for a win - McAllister running riot, while Panther had a shot deflected wide as he bore down on the box. McAllister latched on to a through-ball but couldn't keep his half-volley down. With the game opening up, though, Wycombe also pushed hard to regain the advantage - Phillips slipped at a vital moment as he approached the box. The biggest scare for City came directly from a corner - Balanta took the corner and Jones, under a lot of pressure, fumbled. The Wycombe fans urged the Ref to give a goal, but he and the linesman decided the ball hadn't crossed the line. Midfielder (and Wycombe MOM) Tom Doherty should have done better with a header, instead directing it feebly at Jones, before he and Marcus Stewart were embroiled in a bout of handbags right at the death - Ward getting his book out for both protagonists.

So, a 1-1 draw - a result most if not all City fans would have taken beforehand. The entertainment on show was as free-flowing as anything you would find at much higher levels, both sides proving themselves a credit. For all those Premiership fans who scoff at the quality of play in the basement division, a copy of this match should be forcibly shown to demonstrate what happens when two honest "Footballing" sides go toe-to-toe. Wycombe and City went after the result from the off, and the aesthetic impact was a joy.

It would be difficult to single out any particular City player today, as this was very much a team performance. McAllister's impact off the bench once again seemed to give City fresh impetus, and he must surely get some starts soon, while Neil Saunders looks to have slotted in to the side effortlessly.

The Referee had a bizarre game, to put it lightly. Given very little to do, what he did do was generally pretty awful. The penalty eclipsed even the one at Aldershot last month (and both against Rochdale) in the "soft" stakes, while he seemed to punish innocuous challenges and ignore more hefty ones. This meant the players generally didn't know what to expect, and it is to both sides' credit that they still managed to produce a magnificent match in spite of this.

The last word, though, is entirely positive. Much has been made of City's support (although more debated with reference to home matches), but it was an honour and privilege to be a part of a memorable atmosphere. Right from the off there was a large and vocal support for the side, unstinting in its desire to get behind the team. This seemed to have a positive effect on the team, who turned in a performance matching in effort that of those behind the goal. Let us hope for more of the same until May, where you never know but it might lead to League One Football at the Park next season!

    Data provided by Press Association