Sunday, December 26, 2010

Bulls dominate again but still lose at Wycombe

In a match where, particularly in the first half, United outplayed the promotion chasing Chairboys they still lost out to goals from veteran Gareth Ainsworth and a late Ben Strevens winner after Mathieu Manset had struck a deserved equaliser with his eighth of the season.

Manager Pitman, with newly installed Lenny Lawrence at his side, opted for an initial 3-5-2 formation with Townsend, Rose and Kovacs at the back. The midfield lined up with Heath and Purdie as wing-backs and Featherstone, McQuilkin and the slightly forward Bauza as a central triangle. Fleetwood and Manset completed the team with Kenny Lunt and Colbeck both consigned to the bench.

The Bulls opened by far the brighter with some neat passing football and the Beast got an early shot off that went wide of the keepers left hand post when Bauza was in open space to his right. Rob Purdie was prominent in the opening moves and it was his deflected shot that cannoned off the crossbar following an interchange with Featherstone and Manset. Featherstone laced one high over the bar and when Fleetwood ‘s shot was handled, Quilks curled the free-kick over from 22 yards.

The Bulls continued to boss the proceedings and Fleetwood combined with Manset again to provide an opening for the overlapping Joe Heath but his cross shot whistled past the far post with Nikki Bull scrambling to recover his ground. At the other end, Bloomfield warmed the hands of Bartlett with a snap shot before Purdie was forced to retire with what looked like a recurrence of his hamstring problem just before the half hour and was replaced by Matt Lund. Manset worked his way down the left before delivering a low driven cross but Fleetwood’s sliding contact unluckily drifted a foot wide before a similar move at the other end saw the ball travel the full width of the pitch and out for a throw. Bauza fed Fleetwood but the Newent man’s driven cross was hacked away by Winfield for a fruitless corner.

Bauza was upended by Leon Johnson but Quilks’ dead ball effort again cleared the bar from just outside the box before Fleetwood’s hard work was rewarded with another corner on the right. This time, Quilks found the head of Manset but his glancing contact sent the ball agonisingly just beyond the back post.

A rare Wycome corner on the right was cleared upfield by Manset but soon returned as it was driven hard and low across the edge of The Bulls’ penalty area to where former QPR player Gareth Ainsworth was on hand, and unmarked, to volley a low shot across Bartlett and into the far corner of the net giving the hosts a somewhat undeserved half time lead.

HT Wycombe 1 Bulls 0

United earned an early free kick on the right when Fleetwood was bundled over as he scurried towards goal but the delivered cross pinged about in the box before being hoofed away without the goalkeeper being troubled. Ainsworth duped the officials into awarding a free kick when he played the old routine of knocking the ball too far in front of himself and then running into the back of his marker and collapsing to the ground. You really would think that officials would be wise to that one by now. Then, as The Bulls attacked again, Fleetwood’s cross-field ball found Manset who checked inside before bring the first save of real note from Nikki Bull.

Ainsworth lifted an attempt high over the bar and Bartlett collected a weak shot from Winfield following a half cleared corner as Wycombe, for the first time, really started to show some control of the game. On sixty-three minutes, Fleets was replaced by Colbeck as Pitman looked to freshen things up and return to a 4-4-2 formation with Rose moving to right back and Colbeck taking his customary position on the wing. A brace of corners for either side produced very little and both Manset and Bauza had breaks halted by the assistant’s upraised flag before Kenny Lunt joined the fray with sixteen minutes remaining at the expense of Featherstone. The change brought a composure and awareness that had been lacking in the second period as Lunt started to spread the play and make space for some telling forward passes. Manset spurned a great opportunity when clean through but Bull thwarted his attempt to round the keeper when a direct shot might have been a better option. Then in the seventy-ninth minute Hereford got a deserved equaliser.

Lunt and McQuilkin combined in midfield before the ball was fed wide to Colbeck who quickly made ground on the right and delivered a hard, low cross which The Beast hammered into the corner of the net from the edge of the box. Filled with the confidence that a goal brings, The Bulls went searching for a winner and Bauza, Lunt, Colbeck and Manset all tried their luck without the desired result. Then, as the game looked to be heading for a draw, Ben Strevens eighty-seventh minute strike provided the sickening finale. Stuart Beaven got by Heath on the outside and pulled the ball back from the byeline to find Strevens on the edge of the six-yard box to force home the late winner. Many of the 150 odd Bulls Fans out of the total of 3792 were still shaking their heads in disbelief as they left the Ground.

FT Wycombe 2 Bulls 1

Wycombe: - Bull, Sandell, Winfield, Johnson, Westwood, Ainsworth, Bloomfield, Betsy, Lewis, Strevens, Beaven, Subs unused, Arnold, Foster, Bennett, McCoy, Murtagh, Harris, McClure.

Bulls: - Bartlett, Townsend, Rose, Kovacs, Heath, Purdie (Lund 29), McQuilkin, Featherstone (Lunt 74), Bauza, Fleetwood (Colbeck 64), Manset. Subs unused, Heister, Stratford, Weir, Canham.

For all their first half possession and good football, it was not until the second period that former Shots stopper Nikki Bull was forced into making a real save. Most Bulls efforts were either high or wide and while defensive frailties will lead to conceding goals, one thing is for sure…the ball doesn’t go into the opponents net if it ain’t on target.

The match was played in a good spirit and the playing surface, although a little greasy, was good. Next up is the scheduled but maybe doubtful match against The Cobblers. Ryan Green is due back but I fear we might have seen the last of Rob Purdie for a few games.

Send three and fourpence, going to a dance!