WITH the new football season just two weeks away, we pick out five fixtures for Wanderers fans to look forward to.
The first round Capital One Cup tie against Championship side Millwall pairs Blues boss Gareth Ainsworth with his former manager at QPR, Ian Holloway. Ainsworth stepped in as caretaker when Holloway controversially left the club before one Gary Waddock took the R’s hotseat.
Ainsworth made his Wanderers debut at The Den in a 2-0 win that gave Waddock his maiden victory as Blues manager, but fractured the cheekbone of the Lions’ Tony Craig during the game. In the rematch at Adams Park Ainsworth became a marked man and was sent off for his part in a brawl.
Ainsworth hasn’t faced Millwall since and it will be interesting to see how the ever hospitable south London crowd react to him on August 12.
While some matches are grudge fixtures, this one will be anything but. If anything, Wanderers should be laying out the red carpet for the Stags when they arrive at Adams Park on September 13.
On the last day of last season Blues’ position was looking desperate, not only needing to beat Torquay to stand any chance of survival but relying on a favour from elsewhere.
Mansfield provided them with it, beating Bristol Rovers 1-0 to condemn the Gas to the drop and spark a summer’s worth of outbursts and accusations of skulduggery from the Memorial Stadium hierarchy.
Wanderers won’t be able to give a guard of honour to the man who saved them however. Colin Daniel, scorer of the all-important goal, joined League One side Port Vale in the summer.
Blues’ trips to Fratton Park are never dull. Their first visit came with Wanderers stuck near the foot of League Two and Portsmouth in a higher division, but Wycombe pulled off a shock 3-1 win in the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy.
The following season the League Two match was abandoned at half time as half the contents of the Solent were dumped onto the pitch in a biblical storm. The players had their work cut out getting back to the dressing room as the tunnel – which is below pitch level – became flooded.
There was drama, too, in the rearranged fixture as Anthony Stewart headed a 94th minute equaliser for Wanderers – having only been cleared to play on the morning of the game after Blues successfully appealed the red card he was shown at Dagenham the previous Saturday.
If history is anything to go by, September 20th’s trip to the south coast should be anything but dull.
Another grudge match, and another set of supporters who don’t hold Gareth Ainsworth in high esteem. This will be the first time the sides have met each other since Wanderers pipped the Shrews to League Two promotion in 2011, and the first time the Shropshire club will have the chance of revenge.
In March of that season the sides faced off at the Greenhous Meadow for a game that would go a long way to deciding who would go up. The hosts dominated the first half and deservedly went in front, only for Ainsworth to head an equaliser.
Only it turned out the ball hadn’t even reached the goalline, much less crossed it, before being turned away by keeper Ben Smith. The linesman gave the goal, the match ended 1-1, and Blues went up after finishing one point above the Shrews to claim the third and final automatic promotion slot.
Ainsworth won’t be expecting any Christmas cards with a Shropshire postmark ahead of the game, which takes place on December 28. The Adams Park rematch is on March 14.
Wanderers have avoided the delights of the mythical Carlisle away on a Tuesday night in March fixture – that honour falls to Cheltenham Town – but because of the distance the journey to Cumbria is always seen by fans of any club as one that has to be done.
Brunton Park will always hold a special place in Blues fans’ hearts as it was where the Chairboys played their first-ever Football League fixture after legendary boss Martin O’Neill guided them to promotion in 1993.
The game finished in a 2-2 draw as future England international Steve Guppy became the first Chairboy to score a professional goal for the club. The first ever goal came courtesy of Carlisle’s clumsy Chris Curran, who later scored an equaliser at the right end to ensure honours were even on the opening day.
Blues make what seems like a 2,000 mile round trip on February 21.