Wycombe Wanderers 1, Rochdale 2.
AN injury time strike from Bobby Grant ruined Gareth Ainsworth’s big day as Rochdale snatched victory at the death.
Wanderers had looked set to take a point from Ainsworth’s first match in permanent charge of the side until Grant’s heavily deflected strike looped into the back of the Blues net at the start of five minutes of stoppage time.
It was rough justice on Blues as they fought back from going behind early on to level thanks to a wonderful individual effort from their own Grant, Joel.
Until stoppage time Wycombe looked set to take their first point from a losing position, having lost every single time they had conceded the game’s opening goal.
And had Lady Luck been smiling on them they could and perhaps ought to have taken all three points.
As it was, the new era was only five minutes old when the visitors went in front, as the Lancashire side broke incisively down the right flank before Grant’s deft cross was confidently despatched from close range by Ashley Grimes.
It was far from the start Ainsworth was looking for and Grimes – who scored for Rochdale at Spotland last September – was close to pouncing on Sam Wood’s backpass, but goalkeeper Jordan Archer cleared in the nick of time.
Wanderers rallied as Bruno Andrade, making his long-awaited Adams Park debut, had a volley deflected wide and Dennis Oli collected a flick from strike partner Dean Morgan and bulldozed his way through the visiting defence before having a shot from a narrow angle blocked by the foot of Dale keeper Josh Lillis.
Blues had an even better chance to level from a corner moments later as Grant made a dramatic intervention at the other end of the pitch, with the Rochdale striker clearing off the line from Dave Winfield’s header.
When they did equalise it was thanks to a moment of sheer genius from Wycombe’s Grant. Nothing appeared on when he received the ball on the right wing, so he simply cut inside past a couple of defenders as if they weren’t there, set himself with a great touch inside the penalty area before deftly dinking the ball over the advancing Lillis for a superb goal.
A swift second almost followed as the unmarked Josh Scowen headed straight at the goalkeeper, but the visitors almost levelled as the other Grant curled a free-kick narrowly wide.
Half chances were traded before Wanderers wasted a glorious opportunity to go in front in first half stoppage time. Scowen’s precise pass down the left created the space for Andrade to get by his man and send over a great cross, but Oli slipped as the ball arrived at his feet and the striker spooned his effort wide of the far post.
He had the opening chance of the second period as he collected Stuart Lewis’s pass, but Lillis was able to turn his rising effort over the crossbar without too much difficulty.
The game was now starting to turn into Oli’s personal battle to open his goalscoring account for Wanderers, with his next effort a powerful on-target header that drew an excellent reaction stop from Lillis.
Blues were starting to turn the screw and Dale’s only forward foray led to Bobby Grant receiving a yellow card for diving while under pressure from Wood.
Lillis in the visiting goal was starting to earn his corn as he produced a great full length save to turn away Andrade’s effort from distance, before Scowen was off target from just outside the box as the pressure mounted.
When Rochdale did come forward Grimes was usually found at the heart of it, as he was just unable to get on the end of Bobby Granr’s cross-shot across the bows before chesting the ball into the path of Andrew Tutte, who miscued his effort through to Archer.
Wanderers substitute Junior Morias had shouts for a penalty waved away after claiming his shot struck a defender on the arm and fellow youngster Charles Dunne – playing in an unfamiliar right-back role – had a near post effort gathered in by Lillis as Blues looked to give Ainsworth a winning start.
It looked like the sides were going to have to settle for a point apiece until the ball sat up for Grant 30 yards out. His speculative shot hit Leon Johnson, looped high up into the sky and over a stranded Archer before nestling into the back of the net to leave Wanderers with that losing feeling again.
Wanderers: Archer, Dunne, Winfield, Johnson, Wood, Andrade, Scowen, Lewis, Grant, Oli, Morgan (sub Morias). Substitutes not used: Harrison, Hause, Kewley-Graham, Ainsworth, Taylor, Logan.