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Oxford United v Wycombe Wanderers - Sky Bet League One Play Off Final

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Fan Focus: Wycombe fan Phil believes that Gareth Ainsworth’s side “relishes” being the underdog!

Ahead of Sunderland’s League One play-off final match at Wembley, we spoke to Wycombe Wanderers’ Head Of Audio & Broadcast, Phil Catchpole, to discuss which side he thinks is heading back to the Championship!

Photo by Andrew Kearns - CameraSport via Getty Images

Matthew Crichton: Wycombe ended the season unbeaten in 12 matches and then beat MK Dons 2-1 over two legs, what were the main factors behind such an excellent finish to this season?

Phil Catchpole: The usual Wycombe cornerstones of unity and belief. Following a poor run of results in February, a top six finish looked to be a tall order with some of the other sleeping giants of L1 starting to stir.

However, Gareth Ainsworth tweaked the formation, didn’t panic and maintained that February was exactly the right time to have a blip and fall out of the play-off spots as it left enough time to get back in.

MC: With over 500 matches in charge, Gareth Ainsworth has been one of the most unique and impressive EFL managers across the past decade, what is the secret behind his prolonged success at Wycombe?

PC: As you have correctly pointed out, he is a unique character. Gaz is incredibly comfortable being himself and that allows the entire squad and club to follow suit.

Individuality is embraced and the real magic is that this method makes the team spirit incredibly strong.

Because of his appearance and comparative lack of resources for a large part of his management career, I don’t think that Gareth gets the praise and attention he deserves for his tactical nous and people skills. He uses that to Wycombe’s advantage too.

MC: Before Phil Parkinson was appointed as Sunderland manager back in 2019, Gareth Ainsworth was interviewed by the club, looking back do you think it would have worked for him at the Stadium of Light?

PC: I said at the time that you’d be lucky to have him and I stand by that today. My heart says you’d be in the Championship by now with Gaz at the helm.

From the outside, the structure of the club seems to be stable and ready for promotion now, and in Alex Neil I think you have an excellent manager who can achieve the dream for Sunderland.

Obviously, it’d be great for Wycombe if he can achieve it next season rather than this one.

Milton Keynes Dons v Wycombe Wanderers - Sky Bet League One Play-Off Semi Final 1st Leg
Gareth Ainsworth has managed in each of the three tiers in the EFL, guiding Wycombe from League Two to the Championship.
Photo by Marc Atkins/Getty Images

MC: Later that season, Wycombe defeated the odds by beating Oxford in the playoff final to achieve promotion, how important do you think it will that many of your current squad have experienced causing an upset as the underdog?

PC: Previous play-off experience is in abundance at Wycombe and they have been the underdog ever since I can remember!

The club relishes this status and usually employs it to their advantage. Whatever happens on Saturday they will leave everything out on the pitch and it will take a very good team to beat them.

Despite the underdog tag, the team really believes that they can beat anyone on their day.

MC: Ex-Premier League striker Sam Vokes scored 17 League One goals for Wycombe this year, do you think his physicality and aerial ability will be the main threat to Sunderland?

PC: Vokesy is certainly one of the threats that Wycombe will pose and he is a lot more than just a goalscorer for the team.

His hold up play and flick ons/lay-offs are an integral part of how the Chairboys play and a great example of all of this was the second goal against MK Dons in the semi-final first leg.

Signing a new contract for next season in the week leading up to the final has been a wonderful tonic for the fans and the club as a whole.

He was a broken soul who has been able to rekindle his love for the game at Wycombe and he is loving his time at the club.

It’s been another Ainsworth masterstroke and securing Sam for another season before knowing what division the club will be in underlines just how much he loves it at Wycombe.

MC: The final will be Adebayo Akinfenwa’s final match in professional football, how would you summarise his time with Wycombe?

PC: Just brilliant really. Not only has he become the record EFL era goalscorer for Wycombe, he has provided so much more off the pitch in leadership and attention for the club.

He turned 40 last week and despite having his playing time reduced to cameos off the bench, his presence and contributions around the place are still absolutely vital to how the team performs.

Bayo will be missed hugely by everybody connected to the club after Saturday. Maybe, just maybe he has one more massive story in him to come at Wembley.

Wycombe Wanderers v Milton Keynes Dons - Sky Bet League One Play-Off Semi Final 1st Leg
Adebayo Akinfenwa has scored 60 goals in 249 appearances for Wycombe,
Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images

MC: Josh Scowen was part of the exodus at Sunderland last summer, would you say he has proved this season that he is a top League One level player?

PC: Josh coming home has worked out tremendously well for both parties. He is loved at Wycombe and has been one of the players of the season at Adams Park.

I think in the right team, he is a Championship level player. The battle between Josh and Luke O’Nien will be fantastic to watch.

MC: Aside from the above-mentioned players, which Wycombe do you think can cause Sunderland problems during the match?

PC: Too many to mention really. The beauty of this team is the unity and belief they have and that is what has caused a lot of L1 teams problems this season.

It’s the best squad the club has ever had.

MC: Ex-Wycombe midfielder Luke O’Nien has thrived playing in central midfield again for Sunderland this season, did you always feel that he would find his way back into that position?

PC: As I told you when he signed for Sunderland, Luke is a wonderful bloke who you will grow to love and I’m really pleased for him that this has happened.

I know that Luke will play anywhere and always do what’s best for the team but I think midfield is his strongest position.

He’s the sort of player you love to have on your team so watching him on Saturday will provide mixed emotions, but whatever the result I look forward to seeing him after the game.

Sunderland v Shrewsbury Town - Sky Bet League 1
Luke O’Nien made 119 appearances for Wycombe, winning promotion from League Two under Ainsworth.
Photo by Michael Driver/MI News/NurPhoto via Getty Images

MC: Given the sheer size of Wembley’s pitch, how do you expect Wycombe to set up tactically?

PC: The pitch is the same size as two years ago when Wycombe beat Oxford, so I think they will bring their usual game.

MC: Which eleven players do you believe Ainsworth will select against Sunderland?

PC: 4231 - Stockdale (GK), McCarthy, Stewart, Tafazolli, Jacobson, Scowen, Gape, McCleary, Horgan, Obita, Vokes.

MC: Sunderland have never beat Wycombe away from the Stadium of Light, which side is achieving promotion back to the Championship?

PC: Wycombe Wanderers.


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