Momentous games arrive from time to time. Some are celebrated and some are so utterly ignominious that they not only live long in memory but are held up for future generations as defining moments in the club’s history.
Whether this appallingly abject defeat to a far superior Wycombe side will resonate down the years, as it should, depends on the reaction to the disgrace which should be cleaving to the consciences of all involved, from boardroom to coaching staff to players.
The most optimistic of us, who could rationalise a disastrous January by pointing to a catalogue of injuries which disrupted an idealistic coach’s plan to transform a club from functional relegation battlers in to contenders, have been made to look utterly foolish by a performance which plumbed subterranean depths.
In summary, a bright opening half hour brought a 2 goal lead and missed opportunities to bury the visitors, only for the tables to be turned like the plot of a terrible B movie, beginning with an injury time concession which felt ominous and proved to be much, much worse.
Two stretches of the first half saw Town’s energy and intensity drop alarmingly; a feature throughout a season where even the good wins have been accompanied by perilous and inexplicable periods when the opposition is allowed to profit from mini self implosions.
The first of these followed the opening goal, which was well crafted by Vallejo and Campbell to set up a simple headed finish by Bacuna, as Town’s control and prominence simply disappeared. When on the ball, the Terriers were reasonably effective and comfortable; without it they looked nervous and fragile.
Sensing vulnerability, Wycombe began to expose the usual frailties. Much was made of the different styles of the two teams before the game, citing Town’s high pass completion against the visitors’ necessarily rudimentary approach given their circumstances, but the statistics belie the Terriers’ discomfort without the ball and susceptibility to physicality and pressure.
Losing shape, errors were forced by the visitors and Town were grateful to Sarr’s interceptions on more than one occasion, including two clearances off the line as Wycombe, with little to lose, reacted to going behind with commendable spirit.
With half time approaching, Town doubled their lead through Mbenza who struck a decent shot across Allsop, who was beaten a little too easily and had a great opportunity to finish off the League’s whipping boys only for Bacuna to make a mess of a simple ball in to the box for the unmarked Holmes.
Off the hook, Wycombe staged a late assault on Town’s faltering rearguard and got their reward in injury time when the impressive Mehmeti strolled past Vallejo and Bacuna to strike a good shot past Schofield. The goal followed a scare just a minute earlier when Knight hit the bar and the goal was just reward for the visitors’ endeavour.
It was also the defining moment of the game. Instead of being down by 3, the Buckinghamshire stragglers had given themselves hope and a huge lift at a crucial time, simultaneously casting fear, uncertainty and doubt in to their hosts.
What followed in the second half was entirely unacceptable. Unprofessional, lacking inspiration of any kind and disastrously sloppy in and out of possession, Town were completely dominated, on their own patch by demonstrably the poorest side in the division.
Not that Wycombe looked anything like the worst Championship side in recent memory. That sobriquet belonged to their opponents who, after a reasonably promising opening 10 minutes of the second half, proceeded to collapse in to a profoundly disturbing and ramshackle paltriness.
Bullied all over the pitch, entirely incapable of winning a second ball, rarely completing a pass, hesitant and in some cases hiding, lacking spirit, bereft of cohesion, defensively inept, offensively impotent, thoroughly unprofessional; even this litany of sins barely conveys one of the worst displays witnessed in many a year. The many failures in the Premier League at least had the consolation of being committed against opposition of quality.
This is not to diminish Wycombe’s efforts, which entirely debilitated the hosts and may well have condemned them to inevitable further deterioration. Their domination was as complete as it was astonishing and laid bare the uncomfortable fact that for all the flair Town can show from time to time, as they did in the first half, it counts for nothing if half the team aren’t prepared to sully their talent with the fundamentals of the game.
This was no smash and grab; if anything, the visitors should have won by a bigger margin. A Schofield save from point blank range, a remarkable miss from close in scrambled away from the line, a good chance put wide following an ill advised Schofield rush from his line and a McLeary effort which just cleared the bar, illustrated Wycombe’s superiority. Allsop, at the other end, was entirely untroubled.
The inevitable crack of Town’s puny resistance came when Keogh decided to run alongside Ikpeazu, who browbeat the home defence, rather than execute a tackle. Handing over responsibility to Hogg, Town’s captain bundled him to the floor to concede a penalty converted by Jacobson.
The thoroughly deserved winner arrived with 5 minutes to go. A free kick glanced off the head of substitute Scott High and fell to the feet of Knight. Easily evading feeble attempts to block, he took one touch before beating Schofield and condemning Town to humiliation.
So, now what? The first game of the shortest month was supposed to deliver a confidence boosting 3 points in advance of the considerably harder challenges ahead. Instead, Town have reached a watershed. The glimmer of hope represented by picking up 2 points at the end of a losing streak has been extinguished and without the, admittedly, minor redemption on offer against Wycombe, all excuses have now expired.
Corberán, whose nascent head coaching career is now firmly on the line, has to deliver a team on Tuesday which can rectify the damage inflicted on a dark day for the club. It is more likely that he cannot, as the psychological damage looks far too severe and his inexperience too exposed but he should be allowed the opportunity. It is his choice whether to stick to his principles or introduce, somehow, a level of pragmatism to a squad seemingly incapable of performing to the standards he clearly desires but pursues against increasingly flimsy evidence of likelihood.
The fine line between principle, including training methods which may be contributing to seemingly endless injury problems, and obstinance is now being severely tested. Can Corberán innovate to affect change? The season long ineffectiveness of in game adaptability suggests not but perhaps necessity will prove the mother of invention.
He isn’t helped by an increasingly poisonous and hostile opposition to the Chairman, CEO and head of recruitment. The only blessing is that he and his players are spared the wrath of the support. By the time we get back in to stadiums, the haemorrhaging of that support may be severe and all of the damage inflicted.
Patience has snapped with a club which insisted upon searching for a new identity without paying enough attention to it’s personality. Rather than becoming the Brentford of the North, built on shrewd investment and fuelled by the development of raw talent, which needs supporters to understand the plan, they are left baffled by it and unconvinced that it even exists.
All we can do is now watch the rest of the season unfurl, or unravel, through our fingers. Over to you, Carlos.