Wycombe and Ainsworth’s meteoric rise

Wycombe Wanderers
Gareth Ainsworth was quick to underline Wycombe's achievement of staying in Sky Bet League One after they rounded off the season with a 1-0 win over Fleetwood.

Wycombe's rise to the top of the League One standings under Gareth Ainsworth has to be regarded as the biggest surprise in the Football League so far this term.

Wycombe moved back to the top of League One courtesy of their 2-0 victory at Tranmere on Sunday. It is certainly uncharted territory for the club as they have never finished higher than sixth in the third tier – and that record-breaking campaign came 25 years ago.

It is fair to say nobody was expecting the Chairboys to challenge towards the upper reaches of the division this season. After winning promotion back to the third tier in 2018, they did nothing more than consolidate with a respectable 17th-place finish last term.

Wycombe certainly aren’t one of the big hitters in the division and they are very much in the bottom half of the table when it comes to budget and attendances, with an average gate of just 5,668 at Adams Park this season being the seventh lowest in the division.

The Buckinghamshire club don’t have the resources to compete on an even playing field with the likes of Sunderland and Ipswich. Despite that obvious disadvantage, they are riding high after losing just one of their 17 league matches this term.

Like many clubs in the lower leagues, Wycombe were forced to do their fair share of wheeling and dealing during the summer, with 12 new arrivals coming into the club either on a permanent or temporary basis although only one of those new signings commanded a fee.

Indeed, Ainsworth, himself the longest-serving manager in the Football League, has proved a shrewd worker in the transfer market, with the likes of Jack Grimmer, Darius Charles and David Wheeler all playing important roles since arriving in the summer.

However, it is perhaps the faith Ainsworth has shown in some of his more established stars that has really showcased his man-management skills, with leading scorer Adebayo Akinfenwa seemingly defying the laws of ageing by scoring regularly at the age of 37.

Akinfenwa has been ably assisted in the final third by Scott Kashket, who has already scored as many league goals this season as he has in the previous two years combined.

Captain Matt Bloomfield continues to lead the team from the middle of the park, having now racked up over 500 appearances for the club since joining from Ipswich in 2003, while set-piece specialist Joe Jacobson celebrated his 33rd birthday on Sunday by scoring from the penalty spot against Tranmere.

It is difficult to say whether Wycombe will be able to sustain their promotion challenge throughout the season. Clubs with bigger budgets and squads are likely to put the pressure on as the campaign develops but you can take nothing away from what Ainsworth and his players have achieved with over a third of the season gone.

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