Wycombe Wanderers 1, Northampton Town 1.
AARON Pierre ensured Wanderers lived to fight another day as their do-or-die clash with relegation rivals Northampton finished all square despite a clanger from Matt Ingram.
Wycombe’s young goalkeeper has been in outstanding form all season but his glaring howler – fumbling a Ricky Ravenhill cross into his own net – handed Northampton the lead on a plate in a game Wanderers simply couldn’t afford to lose.
That goal sent Blues into the relegation zone for the first time in what has been a torrid campaign, but they were there for just nine minutes as Pierre equalised with a superb towering header to send relief coursing around Adams Park.
It was tense and nervous throughout – none more so than during ten minutes of stoppage time at the end of the second half – but neither side could make the breakthrough.
Blues thought they had managed it in the very last of those injury time minutes, but Dean Morgan was flagged offside as he rammed the ball home from close range.
It leaves Wanderers still staring nervously over their shoulders, still sitting above the drop zone on goal difference but now with even fewer matches left to resurrect things.
Gareth Ainsworth gambled on the fitness of Paris Cowan-Hall, recalling the winger after a month out and throwing him straight back into the side – but it didn’t pay off as he lasted just half an hour before breaking down again and having to be substituted.
He was one of four changes, as recalls were handed to Leon Johnson, Matt Bloomfield and Jo Kuffour as Ainsworth felt experience would be key to making the difference.
As was to be expected the start was fast, frenetic and stretched with little quality from either side as both teams looked to gain an early advantage.
And it was the visitors who drew first blood, taking the lead in bizarre circumstances with ten minutes gone. Ravenhill’s cross looked to be causing no bother at all to the home defence and Ingram, as he has done on so many occasions this season, came out to collect it.
But the High Wycombe-born keeper allowed the ball to squirm disastrously from his grasp and towards the net, with the linesman deeming it had crossed the line before Ingram was able to scurry back and claw it away.
It was just the start Wanderers didn’t want and it could have got even worse for them as Alan Connell’s curling effort was inches away from dropping in but didn’t dip enough to fall underneath the crossbar.
The luck was out at the other end as a tempting cross from Stuart Lewis was deflected off a defender and onto Kuffour, but the ball flew straight to visiting keeper Matt Duke.
He was a beaten man shortly afterwards though as Pierre charged his way above the Cobblers defence to power a header into the net from Bloomfield’s free kick delivery, showing the determination that would be needed from Blues if they were to get anything out of the game.
Town went straight back on the attack as Zander Diamond glanced a header wide, but Pierre almost repeated his trick to put Wanderers in front as he sent the ball over the bar from another set piece from Bloomfield.
Ingram’s confidence was given a boost as he made a good save to turn away a Connell free-kick that was bending towards the bottom corner, while Bloomfield continued to impress with his set piece deliveries at the other end as Matt McClure headed into the side netting from the midfielder’s free kick.
Morgan, who had replaced the stricken Cowan-Hall in the first half, almost put Blues into a second half lead as his flicked header from a Sam Wood cross clipped the angle of crossbar and post.
The visitors applied by far more of the pressure at the start of the second period without being able to make it count, although Wanderers survived a couple of shouts of handball as the ball spend an uncomfortable amount of time pinging around their penalty area.
And they had further injury woes on the hour as goalscoring hero Pierre was the second man to be forced off, with Anthony Stewart being brought on.
Finally the Cobblers fashioned a chance that their territorial dominance warranted, as Evan Horwood’s cross was nodded down into the path of Connell to shoot high into the side netting.
A flying header from McClure – once more from a Bloomfield corner – crept inches too high, before the visitors swept down the other end and John Marquis shanked woefully wide of the target.
Nerves were starting to play an even bigger part, as Duke nervously flapped away a volley from Lewis before clutching the ball at the second attempt, and substitute Chris Hackett – a one-time Wanderers loanee – scuffed the ball wide from eight yards.
Groans went up as no fewer than ten additional minutes were signalled, as Diamond – who left on a stretcher – and Johnson suffered serious injuries.
And in the very last one of those Blues thought they had grabbed a priceless winner. Max Kretzschmar’s free kick struck the frame of the goal, the loose ball was jabbed goalwards by Johnson and Morgan followed in to ensure it crossed the line – only for Wanderers’ top scorer to be flagged offside.
Wanderers: Ingram, Rowe, Johnson, Pierre (sub Stewart), Wood, Cowan-Hall (sub Morgan), Scowen, Lewis, Bloomfield, McClure, Kuffour (sub Kretzschmar). Substitutes not used: Horlock, Arnold, Morias, Jeffrey.
Attendance: 7,004 (2,129 from Northampton)