The FA Cup tie at Adams Park proved to be a welcome break for both players and fans alike as Alex Neil’s rotated squad recorded their biggest win of the season with a comprehensive demolition of League Two oufit Wycombe Wanderers.
Wycombe are managed by ex-North End player Gareth Ainsworth, one of the most passionate and commited players I have ever seen wear the shirt during his spell at the club, and his North End roots were acknowledged in chants by a sizeable away contingent. Ainsworth, with his long hair, looked more like a rock star as he patrolled the touchline urging his side on but it was to no avail, as it was Alex Neil’s side who called the tune in a game we never looked like losing following Josh Harrop’s opening second minute goal. Our second goal was a great effort by my man of the match Alan Browne, a player I feel has been unjustly critiscised by the so-called experts on the online forums and a small section of the crowd, who disgustingly booed him off the pitch following his substitution at a recent home game. The home side had their best spell in a 10-minute period before the interval and clawed a goal back but the two-goal advantage was restored following Daryl Horgan’s goal five minutes into the second half. Then Alan Browne showed his mettle by electing himself to take a penalty which he duly blasted into the roof of the net to double his tally on the scoresheet, and it was all over for the home fans, many of whom headed for the exit to escape the Adams Park traffic bottleneck. Josh Harrop who improves with every game, also scored his first ever double for the club with a close- range header after a well-worked move in the closing stages which put the icing on the cake and sealed a fine win. No doubt even a win of this measure will not satisfy all the people on the online forums who might have been appeased by a 10-1 scoreline. However you can only beat what is in front of you and to do it so easily will have delighted the faithful, who parted with their hard-earned cash after an expensive Christmas period and made the long journey south to cheer their side on. After recent early exits in the competition, albeit to heavyweight giants Manchester United and Arsenal, it would be nice to have a cup run and the hope of another day out at Wembley in the semi-finals but failing that, Tottenham away in the next round please.
There were many contributing factors to this comfortable third-round win for North End, not least of which the hunger of the players coming into the side to make a mark and catch the gaffer’s eye. North End were one up in just over a minute and when Alan Browne made it two we looked to be coasting. The Chairboys got one back on the stroke of half-time but I don’t think the result was ever in doubt as Horgan, Browne (pen) and the goal of the day from Harrop made the scoreline reflect North End’s superiority on a damp January afternoon in Buckinghamshire. Wycome were energetic and pressed hard as you would expect from a Gareth Ainsworth side. But they just had no answer to a Preston side two divisions and four goals better on the day. North End started well and won a free-kick in the first minute just outside of the box in a very dangerous position. Bodin and Harrop lined up at either side of the ball and it was Harrop who placed a superb shot beyond Brown, putting North End one up with 90 seconds on the clock. Wycombe rallied for a while but Clarke and Huntington saw off the threat of Akinfenwa all afternoon and when a rare Browne left-foot shot from distance made it 2-0, it looked like being a long afternoon ahead for Wycombe. To their credit, though, the home side battled back and tried to get down the flanks and were rewarded just before the break when a bit of sloppy defending allowed O’Nien to get round the back of the defence and make it 2-1 with a shot that took a deflection off Horgan. After the break North End went on the attack with Wycombe having no answer to the pace of Horgan and Robinson and the guile of Harrop and Bodin. It wasn’t long before the scoreline once again started to reflect the balance of the game as Horgan turned De Haviland inside out and to add insult to injury Horgan’s shot was deflected by the right-back into the net. Three became four as Paul Huntington was held by Scarr in box and the referee pointed to the spot. Up stepped Browne and made no mistake with his second of the afternoon giving Brown no chance in the home goal. The best goal of the afternoon came with five minutes to go as Greg Cunningham raced down the left wing from the halfway line and hit an early ball right on to the head of Harrop and North End’s man of the match made it a nap hand for Alex Neil’s boys and a place in the fourth-round draw on Monday evening. I thought Bodin had a decent debut and I think he will be a crowd favourite once he has properly settled in and gets used to the way the team play. Credit too, to the 791 who made the trip and backed the boys all afternoon, their efforts were rewarded by the players and I am sure the trip home was spent discussing who next in the world’s greatest cup competition. Great respect as well for former North End favourite Gareth Ainsworth who responded and took the applause of the visiting fans and showed that part of his heart still lies at Deepdale.