If you’re sitting at home thinking that Wycombe at Wembley will be some sort of walk in the park, then in the words of Ron Burgundy, I urge you to STOP WHAT YOU’RE DOING AND LISTEN.
That’s exactly what they want you to think.
The cult of Wycombe starts in your head. The little pre-match bear trap that can have devastating consequences. Once the idea is planted, it thrives in many different environments, and germinates in 7-10 days before flowering into pain, misery and disappointment all summer long. For you, the opposition.
The myth of “little old Wycombe” is something aired with regularity - if you don’t believe me, just Google it. Turns out they do it all the time! Cheeky buggers! It’s a powerful psychological tool though, isn’t it? Nevertheless, you’ve got to get up pretty early to get me with that one, Chairboys.
Ainsworth trotted it out post-playoff semi final, but it’s not going to wash with me. Not a jot.
Thing is, they’re not so little. They’ve been in the Championship just last season and were unlucky to go down, they’ve had the measure of arguably the best footballing side in the division in MK Dons only last week; most importantly they have players with a specific set of skills that, as Liam Neeson might say, make them a nightmare for people like us.
If you were on a night out, Wycombe would be the 6’9 doorman barring entry to the nightclub. For clarity, they are not f*cking little.
They’re a team that knows exactly how to play to their strengths: the knock downs, the aerial threat, the corners. There’s craft in there too - just look at those dancing feet of Mehmeti and the way he sailed through our midfield at Adams Park in January.
They have their style of play - and they do it well.
Don’t forget too that this is a club that has lost one game in 14 matches - and still got past MK Dons anyhow, so that defeat didn’t really matter.
Then there’s the clean sheets - half of those 14 matches they kept their opponents out.
Perhaps the most dangerous thing of all is they are stats-defying. Just let the image below speak for itself:
God that’s depressing isn’t it? So we could still have 14 shots on target on Saturday and still lose?
And of course they did it all two years ago when they beat Oxford at Wembley - so they have a blueprint of how to win.
Then there’s Gareth Ainsworth. Not a universal opinion obviously, but in my view perhaps the most capable manager in the whole of the EFL, when you look at what he has achieved; both in terms of where he has taken the Chairboys and how he has bought a club together, from top to bottom.
How many other managers currently have the greatest manager in their history in charge? Not many - that’s for sure.
So, in summary (and I realise this is beginning to sound like a powerpoint presentation), Wycombe Wanderers: psychologically the strongest team in the division, the team that keeps clean sheets, the team that has playoff pedigree, that beats the big sides, that are a team who would follow their manager into battle any day of the week.
But here’s the beauty of it - as long as you know this, are prepared for it and can combat it - you neutralise it. Because you aren’t underestimating them in any way, shape or form. And that is how they really beat you.
That is the key to beating Wycombe Wanderers. Because then you stop them playing their own game - and force them to play yours. Just like we did at the Stadium of Light in August, just like we did in January 2020. They couldn’t handle it - didn’t even come close.
I have my own past with Wycombe Wanderers. I was born in Basingstoke, and as such have fond memories of the 1997/98 season when, in the FA Cup first round, the Dragons came up against the Chairboys. 2-0 down at Adams Park, they fought back with two goals in the final 15 minutes, including a Paul Wilkinson rasper, to draw 2-2. In the return leg another draw was played out before the mighty ‘Stoke triumphed 5-4 on penalties, with male model Dean Beale the hero in the Basingstoke goal, saving from Keith Scott.
You might think it a bit of a sobering experience that my first love, Sunderland, now come up against the men from Buckinghamshire. The answer is no - rather that match is a reminder that sometimes the team that you expect to get beat, can actually triumph.
It’s a cautionary tale that we would do well to remember.
Yes, there’s going to be 45,000+ Mackems in attendance and yes it means wa massive (joking, joking) - but it also means that complacency might creep in - to us as fans at least.
It is considerable comfort, therefore that we have in Alex Neil, the man who is least likely in the whole entire world to underestimate a team like Wycombe. He’s someone who would grit his driveway even though there’s a minimum night time temperature of four degrees just in case. Someone who thinks of every eventuality - always.
We need to be prepared to win the battle both in terms of footballing ability and psychologically - lads, it’s over to you.