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Interview: Wycombe’s squad battling virus as they look to spoil Sunderland’s excellent week

Ahead of tomorrow’s game we caught up with BBC Three Counties’ Phil Catchpole to chat League One, Luke O’Nien, and how the Wycombe squad has been struck down by the spread of a virus this week.

Sunderland v Wycombe Wanderers - Sky Bet League One Photo by Harriet Lander/Getty Images

Wycombe Wanderers have been a difficult side to predict this season. They haven’t flown up the table like fellow promoted side Luton, or been strong play-off contenders like Coventry. Currently they’re above Accrington Stanley, though, who also made the leap up to League One last year.

Sitting solidly in mid-table, it looks like Wanderers will stave off relegation, but the play-offs are probably out of reach. That being said, there’s always one side in each of the EFL divisions that ends up making a late surge - such are the contradictions of mid-table. Maybe Wycombe - powered by the bustling figure of Adebayo Akinfenwa - could be the side that squeaks in at the last minute?

To find out if their supporters think they could make the top six and what the mood is like going into tomorrow’s game, we spoke to Wycombe fan Phil Catchpole from BBC Three Counties Radio.

Sunderland v Wycombe Wanderers - Sky Bet League One
More of this on Saturday, please.
Photo by Harriet Lander/Getty Images

RR: Your form has taken a bit of a dip lately, with no wins in your last six games. Is there anything in particular you would put that down to? Has the team been playing badly or have you been pretty unlucky?

PC: It’s been a sticky run but it’s included away games at high-flying Luton, Barnsley and Peterborough. The home defeat against Gillingham was hugely disappointing but the performances have been a mixture of encouraging and frustrating with defensive errors being ruthlessly punished.

A bit of luck is perhaps overdue to turn the tide, but so far this season, Wycombe have won and lost in blocks of games. I’m sure a win will lead to a few more and League One safety.

RR: That run of form must be made all the more frustrating given that you’re only 12 points off the play offs, as things stand. A couple of extra wins and you would certainly be in the conversation. Do you think you can make a late top six push though or are you happy to consolidate in mid-table?

PC: Only the very giddiest of optimists will have even entertained the very thought of Wycombe making the play-offs this season. The goal from the very outset was League One survival, a feat not achieved since season 02/03. I’m absolutely convinced that Gareth Ainsworth looks in the mirror every morning and says “52 points and survival” to himself three times before telling everybody else he encounters the same mantra throughout his day.

He loves a Starbucks and I wouldn’t be surprised that he has “52 points” written on his coffee cup in place of his name each morning.

Gaz is a marvellous man who has achieved a great deal with Wycombe on a budget similar to that of teams in the non-league. Staying in League One will be the culmination of a five year plan that should see him offered a chance to manage a club higher up the food chain with a decent budget at his disposal. A few points still are required yet though.

In answer to your question - I’d be absolutely delighted to consolidate in mid-table.

Wycombe Wanderers v Norwich City - Carabao Cup Third Round
Gareth Ainsworth.
Photo by Alex Morton/Getty Images

RR: It seems like you have carried a lot of momentum from last season into this campaign. The fact that you’re in such a comfortable league position straight after getting promoted is testament to that. Does this give you confidence that you’ll keep that momentum up next season?

PC: There is a huge summer ahead for the club. The club is currently “owned” by the Supporters Trust, whose board are in the process of bringing some investment into the club. This could happen before the close season and may result in the club being able to increase its wage structure and attract some younger players.

The momentum you speak of has been crucial to Wycombe getting promoted and starting the season well in Leauge One. It’s almost entirely built on an unbelievable team spirit and work ethic, but I think that the squad will need to be developed in the close season - especially if the club retain their League One status.

RR: Looking ahead to the game, who’s in good form for you at the moment? Anyone in particular we should be looking out for, aside from Akinfenwa?

PC: Curtis Thompson has been an absolute revelation in midfield this season and it’s staggering that he was loaned to Wycombe last season by then promotion rivals Notts County (cheers Kevin Nolan), before signing permanently this season. Curt has softened the crushing blow of losing Luke O’Nien and will need to be at his best on Saturday.

Attacking midfielder, Nick Freeman, has been classed as a promising player for a couple of seasons now but he’s starting to look like the real deal. He’s very tidy on the ball and loves to drive forwards; he was Wycombe’s best player last time out at Peterborough.

Sido Jombati is a right back who has been converted to centre-back this season with good effect. Sido is a wonderful character both on and off the pitch, often producing the unexpected and always entertaining.

Charlton Athletic v Wycombe Wanderers - Sky Bet League
Thompson has been regarded as a “revelation” this season.
Photo by Ker Robertson/Getty Images

RR: We’ll be buoyed after booking our place to Wembley in midweek, but which player/players in the Sunderland side are you worried about?

PC: The prospect of watching Will Grigg burst into flames at Adams Park is frankly terrifying, especially when I think about Aiden McGeady pulling the strings for him.

Luke O’Nien will quite rightly receive a heroes welcome from the Wycombe faithful. He was utterly adored whilst wearing the quarters and I’d be lying if I said that I don’t afford myself a broad grin every time that I see he’s scored for you/done something daft online.

It almost feels written that young Luke will score on Saturday and the most heartbreaking thing about this will be that there won’t be a wrestling themed celebration with The Beast.

RR: How do you expect Gareth Ainsworth to approach this game, and what do you expect his starting line up to be?

PC: If Wycombe score first, then you should abandon all hope of making it back to Wearside in time for work on Monday. Wycombe like to break up the rhythm of the game where possible and with the remarkable disparity between the two clubs budgets, I’d imagine that this tactic will be utilised on Saturday.

Gaz revealed that a virus has hit the squad this week which may impact his ideal selection on Saturday. He hasn’t revealed who has been ill, so this may be off the mark come Saturday:

Allsop; McCarthy Stewart Jombati Jacobson; Thompson Gape Freeman; Bloomfield; Akinfenwa Kashket.

RR: Let’s round it off nicely with a score prediction please!

PC: 3-3, perhaps involving some insanely spirited injury-time come back from Wycombe!

Wycombe Wanderers v Northampton Town - Carabao Cup First Round
The Beast.
Photo by Pete Norton/Getty Images