New Sunderland manager Phil Parkinson will travel to Adams Park on Saturday to take on Gareth Ainsworth’s Wycombe Wanderers. The former Bolton boss was appointed on Thursday morning, signing a two and a half year contract at the North East club. After being strongly linked with Sunderland, reports suggest that Ainsworth is likely to stay with the London club for the foreseeable future.
Sunderland currently sit 9th in League Two with two games in hand whereas Wycombe are only placed behind leaders Ipswich in 2nd, two points ahead of Peterborough in 3rd.
A win could propel Sunderland up to 3rd in the table - Parkinson will look to remedy our poor away form so far this season with a victory on the day of his first game as gaffer.
Ahead of the match I spoke to BBC football commentator Phil Catchpole to discuss Wycombe’s fantastic start to the season, as well as the speculation surrounding Gareth Ainsworth’s future.
MC: Wycombe boss Gareth Ainsworth has managed the club since 2012, achieving promotion from League Two as well as driving the team currently up to 2nd in League One. How important has he been to the Chairboys’ improvement as a club?
PC: They couldn’t have done it without him. The club would most probably have gone out of business without his work and he is a shining example of sticking by the right person for the job. Had Wycombe been in a better financial position in 2013/14 then even Gaz himself admits that he would have been fired. He wasn’t and ever since then the club has been on an upward trajectory as he has developed and learned along the way.
MC: Ainsworth has been strongly linked with both Sunderland and Millwall lately - do you expect him to stay until the end of the season or do you think he is likely to leave if a bigger club comes calling?
PC: Gaz deserves the chance at a bigger club with more resources now. He has worked miracles at Wycombe and his achievements here are massively underrated/unnoticed by the rest of the game.
It’s no secret that he is ambitious and wants to test himself at a higher level so if the right opportunity presented itself, he’d be off.
MC: Wycombe have been flying this season, losing just once away at Gillingham - what is it about your style of play which has led to your team’s surprise success so far?
PC: A lot of pace and attacking quality was added in the summer to compliment the core squad of experienced generals and younger players. The football going forwards has been very good to watch and is a blend of slick attacking play combined with direct use of the ball, especially around set pieces. There is a real unity in the squad and they are more than capable nod grinding out points too.
MC: 37-year-old Adebayo Akinfenwa is Wycombe’s top scorer this season with five league goals. Everyone is aware of his supreme physicality - how does he utilise his strength on the pitch to still perform at such a high age?
PC: His work rate is unbelievable. Bayo is in the gym everyday and knows how to use his bulk on match days. He doesn’t run the channels and isn’t expected to by Ainsworth which certainly helps with his advancing years.
Bayo is criminally underrated as a footballer too. His reading of the game and first touch is excellent, and combined with his robust physique can make him a brilliant asset for Wycombe. Full credit to Gaz for continuing to get the best out of him.
MC: One of Sunderland’s most exciting prospects is Luke O’Nien, a player who thrived under Gareth Ainsworth. He spent the majority of last season playing right-back even though he is far more effective as a 8 or a 10 - are you surprised by how Jack Ross used O’Nien on the pitch?
PC: We miss Luke terribly, both on and off the pitch. A tremendous character who would happily drive the bus to games if told that was his role in the match day squad.
Jack Ross used him how he thought best and Luke gave absolutely everything for him and the club. Maybe the next boss might play him in midfield a bit more.
MC: Matt Bloomfield has played for Wycombe for seventeen years now making over 450 appearances within that period, as well as playing a part in three promotion campaigns. How important is he to the dressing room in an era where one club players are few and far between?
PC: Blooms is Mr Wycombe. He is the benchmark in how to train, prepare and play that is shown to any new recruits for Wycombe. He is part of Gaz’s group of generals trusted in instilling the spirit and discipline that makes the team tick.
MC: Like Sunderland, Wycombe’s game last Saturday was postponed due to international call-ups. Who are the eleven players you expect to see Ainsworth select to start the match?
PC: 4-3-3: Allsop (GK); Grimmer Stewart Charles Jacobson; Bloomfield Gape Freeman; Onyedinma Akinfenwa Kashket.
MC: In our last fixture, two Wycombe players were sent off (Marcus Bean & Nathan Tyson) with George Honeyman seeing red for Sunderland - are you expecting another feisty affair to follow?
PC: Quite possibly. There is the backdrop of last season’s games and now whatever happens (or doesn’t) with the managerial appointment between now and Saturday.
If Gaz stays at Wycombe, the negative reaction of some of the Sunderland fans to him being linked to the club will certainly help his team talk.
MC: Sunderland and Wycombe drew 1-1 on both occasions last season in League One. What is your honest prediction for the score on Saturday?
PC: Tough one. Another draw but possibly more goals. 3-3... *goes for a lie down*