The Joe Davis column: Ignore the critics, the achievement of Wycombe should be applauded

After shattering Cod Army hearts, Wycombe Wanderers will be competing in the second tier of English football for the first time in their 133-year history.
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As I sit here today, a week on, the media coverage surrounding Wycombe’s promotion journey continues to circulate but my astonishment remains unsubdued.

Even writing this I battle with my subconscious to put ‘Wycombe Wanderers’ and ‘Championship football’ into the same sentence, and it is only now that I realise it may take some time before I am able to picture the Chairboys marching out at Carrow Road next season.

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Gareth Ainsworth got the best out of his Wycombe squad and got them into the ChampionshipGareth Ainsworth got the best out of his Wycombe squad and got them into the Championship
Gareth Ainsworth got the best out of his Wycombe squad and got them into the Championship

I must assure you that Wycombe’s accomplishment was no fluke, however.

Fleetwood manager Joey Barton acknowledged it too, when he hailed the efforts of Gareth Ainsworth and his players following Town’s 6-3 aggregate loss two weeks ago.

There was aggravation directed towards Wycombe before the play-offs, though, with anger at the manner in which Wanderers jumped from eighth to third via the points-per-game system, which subsequently pushed Peterborough United down to seventh and deprived them of a play-off spot.

In my eyes, though, the unweighted PPG was the most even-handed option, and let’s not forget that over 34 league fixtures and three play-off contests Ainsworth’s men won enough games to warrant promotion.

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Evidently, not everyone shares my appreciation. It didn’t take long before the lashings of flippant remarks appeared online, attacks towards Wycombe’s uncompromising style of play being the prominent theme.

If you are the kind of person who demands picturesque, tiki taka-type football then, yes, you ought to do a U-turn when you reach the signposts for Adams Park because Ainsworth hasn’t built a team to pick up any passing awards – he has built a team to win.

On the other hand, If you appreciate 11 men scrapping for every ball, putting their bodies on the line and chasing lost causes, then you will tip your hat at what has been built in Buckinghamshire.

It doesn’t take a genius to state that next year’s Championship campaign will be a challenge, but let’s refrain from shooting them down before they’ve even crossed a white line.

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I must admit that Wycombe’s unforeseeable rise has taught me an awful lot. Often I looked down at the names on a team sheet and passed judgement.

The truth is that you should never underestimate names, as what can lie behind them – particularly in Wycombe’s case – is a tight-knit group of players with an unbreakable bond; a synergy between manager and players sharing a goal, a synergy that you cannot approximate.

I’ve learned not to scrutinise a route-one philosophy or disdain a football manager wearing burgundy crocodile boots.

I’ve learned that age and statistics are nothing but numbers, underpinned by Oxford’s unparalleled passing stats and Wycombe’s inability to string two passes together.

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I’ve learned that worrying for hours about my matchday running statistics was time well wasted.

On a Monday morning I would anxiously creep up to the A4 paper pinned to the wall, littered with digits, embarrassed if I was in the bottom three.

Heart rates, running graphs, possession and passing figures can all be divulged at the click of a button, and if any player falls short of the expected level there are often repercussions.

My former manager, Steven Pressley, is a great example.

He was devoted to analysis during his tenure, an obsession that I always felt gave him a pat on the back, a reassurance that his methods were backed up by numbers and a form of justification if he had to make the difficult decision of dropping someone.

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I have realised that it is the hidden components that put trophies in the cabinet, not how far or fast you run. Spirit, cohesion, desire – no software is capable of measuring those.

Ainsworth didn’t use science or data to assemble a squad – he hand-picked characters sagaciously.

With a limited budget, his only option was to sign unattached players: players deemed ‘has-beens’, some contemplating retirement and others unproven at League One level.

On paper, his acquisitions failed to excite. However, in Ainsworth’s world outside opinions are worthless.

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The exemplification of that is Adebayo Akinfenwa. In 2016 he was unemployed following his release from League Two outfit AFC Wimbledon. But now, aged 38, he will be plying his trade in the Championship after extending his contract.

Looking ahead to what’s next for Fleetwood, I expect this year’s disappointment to fuel next year’s fire, and Wycombe’s success to act as their primary motive.

By now, Barton and his staff will have identified areas for improvement and drawn up a list of potential targets.

Down the road, Blackpool’s new-look recruitment strategy is already in full swing as several young, hungry players have signed on the dotted line.

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The play-offs interrupted such proactiveness at Highbury but I predict their strategy to remain unvaried: bring in talented Premier League loanees with a sprinkle of older pros, play an attractive brand of football and bounce back from this year’s heartache to achieve promotion.

All that’s missing is a pair of Ainsworthesque crocodile boots.