Wycombe 0, City 3
Nothing should surprise you in a season when a team from League Two are heading for the League Cup final.
But few would have expected such a convincing result at Adams Park last night. One side had been winning for fun, the other had not picked up three points since Boxing Day – so much for the form book.
Phil Parkinson maintained before the game that his side were good enough to force their way back into the mix after their indifferent run. And here was the emphatic proof.
The fact that two of their three goals were scored by Nathan Doyle – who had never hit the net in 71 previous appearances in his two spells at the club – demonstrated how much everything suddenly clicked into place.
It was a case of third time lucky for two sides who seem to have been avoiding each other like Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao. Both previous attempts to play in the last two months had fallen foul of the weather.
Up to 14 centimetres of snow had covered the pitch on Monday but it had drained better than expected after thawing to pass a morning inspection. The surface still looked ropey and was very soft underfoot in places.
It was no surprise that Wycombe had worked so feverishly to get the game on – they went into it on the back of three straight wins and clean sheets. For City, there were only two points from six outings since that festive victory.
Parkinson rang the changes from the Gillingham defeat. Andrew Davies was the most significant of the five new faces – the centre half’s first involvement since injuring his knee in October. The City boss also took out both first-choice frontmen to partner Andy Gray up front with Garry Thompson.
The reworked Bantams made a sensational start with a goal after only 53 seconds. Ryan Dickson’s long throw-in into the box was flicked on by Thompson and it dropped for Doyle to half-volley into the corner of the net.
Davies almost had an embarrassing return to action when he met Josh Scowen’s opening corner for Wycombe with a firm header towards his own goal. But fortunately it was straight into the arms of Matt Duke.
The defender then launched into a full-blooded challenge on Stuart Lewis. He won the ball but referee Scott Mathieson thought otherwise and Dean Morgan’s curling free-kick only just flew past the post.
Thompson and Kyel Reid were both lively in the early stages, although the winger was a bit over-ambitious with a 30-yard attempt that flew harmlessly over the bar.
Wycombe showed glimpses of the confidence of a team bang in form and left back Anthony Stewart met Scowen’s corner with a thumping header just wide of the post.
But City’s cracking start had given them a real lift and they were worth that lead.
Reid set off on a trademark run from the halfway line to win a corner which Gary Jones flighted towards Michael Nelson. His knockdown was cleared as far as Thompson, whose well-struck shot was deflected behind.
Stephen Darby was getting forward whenever the opportunity arose and a lovely pass from Jones set him away to drill in a dangerous cross that Stewart scrambled away in front of goal.
Just like the first half on Saturday, City were enjoying plenty of possession in opposition territory. Reid had the bit between his teeth and was proving a handful for the home defence.
He looked to weave his way through again, only to be flattened by Michael Harriman. Jones looked for Gray with his free-kick into the six-yard box and keeper Jordan Archer punched away unconvincingly.
But City continued to take the game to their hosts and Will Atkinson cut inside to make a beeline for the D, where he hurried a shot that did not match the build-up play.
The away fans, using their free tickets from before Christmas, still gave it a delayed “ooh” – they were entitled to enjoy the first half of their evening.
City began the second period in the same positive fashion, with Reid forcing two early corners to take their tally to eight. It was important that they did not get pinned back.
Morgan hammered a shot off target as Wycombe looked to claw their way back into proceedings and there was a scare from City’s next corner as Doyle’s shot was charged down to launch the home side on a counter-attack.
Scowen’s pass got Sam Wood the wrong side of Darby and bearing down on goal but Duke pushed his shot round the post. It was the keeper’s first real save of note.
But City were a coat of paint away from a second goal after 63 minutes after a sensational strike from Thompson.
Jones sprayed another dangerous pass into Gray’s path and Reid worked his cross back to Thompson for a drive which crashed against the underside of the bar and bounced down and out before Archer could react.
Wycombe player-boss Gareth Ainsworth made his first change with 20 minutes to go as Bruno Andrade replaced the anonymous Matt McClure. The pacy substitute wasted no time in trying his luck from a tight angle but it was no threat to Duke.
Gray, who had put in a good shift for City, then made way for James Hanson but Wycombe’s growing frustration was illustrated by Joel Grant’s crude foul on Dickson. The winger collected the third home booking.
Lewis swerved a shot off target but there was a hint of desperation in the home side’s attacking efforts.
City had the upper hand without a doubt – and took a vice-like grip on the game with two more goals in three minutes.
Reid clipped a cross into the box and Hanson squared to an unmarked Atkinson, who drilled home from 16 yards.
Wycombe were still reeling when Hanson got goal-side chasing a long ball and was tripped in the corner of the box by Archer.
With no Nahki Wells on the pitch, Doyle stepped up for the spot-kick and sent the keeper the wrong way with a cool assurance.
The points were in the bag and Parkinson could withdraw Davies after a tremendous return to arms.
Wycombe were left with nothing to play for except pride – and Duke denied them a late consolation with a fine save when tipping away Morgan’s deflected effort.