By Gerry Prewett.
The mid-week victory over Crawley Town gave Bristol Rovers the result they were looking for after two 2-1 defeats at Peterborough and at home to Accrington. The irony of Rovers League position is that on the measure of xG (expected goals) which measures the quality of the chances teams create, Rovers would be riding high. Converting that possession into goals has been a different story.
Whilst Rovers were going winning their tie on Tuesday night, Wycombe were involved in a tough battle with Northampton Town and it was Wanderers who went through with a 7-6 win on penalties after a 1-1 draw in normal time. Adam El-Abd was the penalty hero, firing home the decisive spot kick after Yves Ma-Kalambay had saved Jordan Turnbull's penalty.
In a keenly fought contest, Randell Williams was the goalscorer for the Blues on 50 minutes, guiding home a fantastic header past Lewis Ward thanks to an excellent cross from Craig Mackail-Smith. However, Wycombe conceded with eight minutes of normal time remaining when the ball found substitute Sam Hoskins in the box and he thumped home past Ma-Kalambay.
It could have been so different for the Chairboys as three minutes earlier, they were indebted to Ma-Kalambay as he superbly saved Ash Taylor's penalty after Dominic Gape had fouled Jack Bridge inside the box.
Having been deputy to Ryan Allsop for the Chairboys’ first two league games, Ma-Kalambay – who played three times last season and featured regularly in pre-season – said he was thrilled to play his part, but his biggest pleasure came from seeing his side reach the second round of the competition.
“As a goalkeeper you try to be helpful and do your job which is saving balls,” he said afterwards. “It was nice to save a penalty in the game and it would have been better to keep a clean sheet, but we go through and that’s the main thing.”
“We have to look at the bigger picture and the performance was pretty amazing,” he explained. “We could have scored more than one and the way that we played and how the gaffer wants us to play was spot on. The personnel made that happen – we had a lot of joy going forward, we were very solid at the back, and the communication the whole way through the team was very good. It was great to see us win as a team, but even better to see everyone coming together to make it happen.”
His save from Taylor came after a foul in the box by Dominic Gape and although the Cobblers skipper struck the ball well, Ma-Kalambay says his instincts were enough to help him keep it out to preserve the 1-0 lead at the time, and then to do the same to deny Turnbull in sudden death.
“I just tried to depart at the last minute and trust my reactions to do the job,” he said. “Penalties are a gamble and I was lucky enough to be big enough and get a strong hand to it. In a penalty shootout, the goalkeeper is always the underdog. You expect a quality player to score from the spot, but these days goalkeepers’ reactions are much better and faster.”
“I was getting excited thinking that my turn to take a penalty might be coming up, but the quality in the changing room in striking the ball is unbelievable and we went through. The team knows that if I needed to take a penalty then I would do it!” he continued.
With a top-flight background in Scotland, Belgium and Romania, plus an upbringing at Chelsea, the 32-year-old brings a wealth of experience to the Chairboys squad and says he’s up for the fight for the number 1 jersey alongside Allsop
“Ryan is a good goalkeeper and I have to accept the gaffer’s decision,” he said. “He played in the first two games and has done well, so it’s my job to give 200% every day, keep pushing and give the gaffer a headache.
Looking at the history of games between Rovers and Wycombe the ledger is pretty even with 18 Rovers wins, 4 draws and 15 wins to the Chairboys.
It was a Wycombe away win that was one of the most significant results in the history of Bristol Rovers. On 2 May 2001 a spectacular Dannie Bulman strike sent Rovers to the basement Division for the first time ever.
In 2012-13 the home teams won both games, 2-0 at Wycombe (after the first game was abandoned with Rovers 3-1 up after the infamous threated lightening strike on the away stand) and 1-0 in Bristol.
The very first League meeting between the clubs was unique, so far, as it is the only 0-0 draw in the fixture; the game took place on 27 August 1994. In the return match on 11 March 1995 Gareth Taylor scored the only goal at Twerton to give Rovers all 3 points.
On 9 November 2010 Jo Kuffour, had a game to remember at Adams Park in another JPT tie. His two first half goals set Rovers up for what looked like a good away win, but on 58 minutes, Scott Rendell pulled one back for the Bucks team. Within a minute Kuffour had hit back to restore Rovers two goal lead and to complete his hat-trick.
Chris Lines added goal number four with a surging run into the area, which took him past three home defenders, and he comfortably beat Bull from eight yards. Rovers fifth goal came from the penalty spot after Alan Bennett brought down Kuffour and Jeff Hughes sent Bull the wrong way with his spot kick.
A foul on Rendell by Lines enabled the home striker to add his second goal of the evening from the penalty spot on 83 minutes. Five minutes later Rendell completed his hat trick when he headed home a cross from Matt Bloomfield.
That wasn't the end of the scoring as Ben Swallow got in on the act, cutting in from the right and unleashing an unstoppable shot that flew past Bull and into the roof of the net and secure a 6-3 away win.
On1 December 2015 Rovers ran out comfortable 3-0 winners the last time they entertained the Buckinghamshire club. It was just Rovers third home League win of the season. A Matty Taylor 13 minute hat-trick secured all three points.
Lee Mansell was brought down by James McCarthy on the edge of the penalty area, Mansell dusted himself down and was part of the trio stood over the ball for the resulting free kick. Matty Taylor put the ball into the path of Mansell who gave him the ball back straight away for Taylor to power a first time shot past Matt Ingram to put Rovers a goal to the good.
Moments later Taylor hit the back of the net again. This time Billy Bodin was fouled in the centre of the pitch before a quick bit of thinking from Stuart Sinclair played in Taylor from the quick free kick and Taylor made no mistake doubling his tally for the evening.
Taylor notched his third with just over 15 minutes of the game remaining as he latched onto some poor defending in the penalty area from Wanderers before calmly stroking the ball past a hapless Matt Ingram.
Rovers visit to Adams Park on 26 April 2014 was something of a false dawn as they secured just their second away win of the 2013-14 season and as they mistakenly thought their League existence.
With just 10 minutes of the game gone, Clarkson tried to push the ball past Matt Bloomfield but the Wycombe player stopped it with his hand and from the resulting free kick Lee Brown curled a delightful free kick into the top corner of the net.
On 20 minutes, though, the home side scored an unexpected equaliser when Sam Wood floated a free kick into the box and somehow Matt McClure got a touch on the ball even though it was behind him, and directed it past Steve Mildenhall and into the net.
The all-important goal arrived on 75 minutes after Clucas floated a ball into the Wycombe area. A poor defensive header dropped at the feet of Clarkson, who was lurking in the six-yard box and he volleyed past Ingham from close range. A much celebrated but ultimately fruitless victory.
Just under a year ago Rovers had a very fruitful Football League Trophy visit to Adams Park. After going behind to a 5th minute Dayle Southwell goal it was all one-way traffic. Dom Telford (9 minutes and 42 Minutes) gave Rovers a half-time lead with Ryan Broom (54 minutes), Liam Sercombe (63 minutes) and Ryan Broom again (85 minutes) giving the Gas an emphatic 5-1 victory.
Speaking after their mid-week victory Wanderers Manager Gareth Ainsworth commented, "It is great to win on penalties. It isn't nice to be on the other end. We played some good stuff. The front three ran their socks off, we had energy in the midfield and the back four, with Jason McCarthy back in there, was a big plus and Yves did really well tonight."
With Ainsworth making seven changes for the game, most of them performed very well to stake their claim for a starting berth against Rovers on Saturday. Ainsworth added: "This game is about squads. Everyone wants to play and the whole squad will be used this season. My headache is to pick the right team for the game against Bristol Rovers. We asked plenty of questions of Blackpool, not too many against Doncaster but we were back to usual selves here."