Wycombe Wanderers 1, Bristol Rovers 2.
WANDERERS need a miracle if they’re to avoid dropping into non-league football as David Clarkson snatched victory in this do-or-die clash with Bristol Rovers.
Blues have dropped into the bottom two for the first time all season and are now three points from safety with one game remaining.
Aptly in this wretched season, the winning goal came thanks to a mistake from Wanderers.
Matt McClure – who had raised hopes of survival with an outstandingly skilful Bergkamp-esque equaliser as Blues once again had to fight back from going a goal down – misplaced a header straight into the path of Rovers striker Clarkson.
He made no mistake, silencing the home fans and leaving Wanderers needing snookers in their battle against the drop.
Fifteen years ago this week Wanderers started to mount their greatest escape by beating Manchester City at Maine Road and they needed someone to fill the boots of a Keith Ryan or a Steve Brown, stepping up to be a hero.
They didn’t find one and Adams Park now looks like it’s seen its final Football League fixture in a game that summed the season up – Wanderers failing to take their chances and leaving their opponents to score with their few opportunities.
Early openings went the visitors’ way as Clarkson – sent off in the return fixture at the Memorial Ground in October – burst through a gap in the middle and fed Fabian Broghammer to his left, with the German midfielder seeing his shot blocked by Anthony Stewart.
The resulting corner was poorly defended and dropped to Clarkson, loitering on the edge of the box, and his shot was adjudged to have been handled by Matt Bloomfield. A free kick was the result, which was expertly despatched into the top corner thanks to a beautiful curling strike from Lee Brown’s left boot.
The goal came just as news of Northampton taking the lead at Dagenham filtered through, plunging Blues into the relegation zone and three points from safety.
Wanderers needed a moment of inspiration in a scrappy game between two struggling sides, and Steven Craig held the ball up and opened up space for Sam Wood to hit a powerful strike that was blocked by Tom Parkes.
Wood’s next contribution helped get Wanderers back on terms as he sent over a fizzing, curling cross that was just behind McClure. The striker showed outstanding instinct and reflexes to turn acrobatically and backheel the ball into the net while in mid air.
Most of the crowd thought the ball had found only the side netting, and only the celebrations of the home players alerted fans to the fact Blues had drawn themselves level.
It woke Wanderers, the fans and in particular McClure up, and the striker glided past the lumbering Parkes with a glorious turn but his low cross was nicked clear just as Max Kretzschmar was poised to tap home from close range.
A McClure free kick crashed off the wall and the ball was worked wide for Kretzschmar to pull back to Josh Scowen, who produced an airshot on the edge of the box. Rovers looked to break clear but Danny Rowe made a fantastic halfway line tackle on Clarkson before sending it up to Stewart, who turned his man before dragging a shot well wide of the target.
Half time came as a relief but with Northampton three goals clear and all the other sides at the foot of the table winning, Wanderers had absolutely no margin for error while also needing to chase the goal that would settle the nerves.
Skipper Stuart Lewis has provided much of the inspiration for Blues this season and he again tried to show the way as he broke clear through the middle before having a shot blocked, with Aaron Pierre – patched up after a first half clash of heads with former Wanderers striker Matt Harrold – heading the resulting corner into the terracing behind the goal.
Lewis then snaffled possession off John-Joe O’Toole and released Scowen, who drove forward and released McClure in the area but the striker failed to add to his tally as he smashed the ball across the face of goal and wide of the far post.
Rovers made a hash of a good opening as the offside Brown stepped in front of his onside colleague Steven Gillespie, as the substitute was played in behind the Blues backline by an incisive O’Toole pass.
Visiting keeper Steve Mildenhall dropped the ball under pressure from McClure but recovered to claim it under pressure from Scowen, before Danny Rowe sent over a pinpoint delivery from the right that was headed agonisingly wide of the target by Craig.
It was a let-off Rovers exploited to the full – and another error from a Wanderers player gift-wrapped them the opportunity. Seanen Clucas sent over a cross which McClure got to first, but he misdirected his header back across the face of his own goal and into the path of Clarkson.
He couldn’t miss, slotting home from inside the six yard box to spark a pitch invasion from some of the 2,300 visiting Gasheads.
There was simply no response from Wanderers in the remaining fifteen minutes, who seemed consigned to their likely fate - non-league football next season.
Wanderers: Ingram, Rowe, Stewart, Pierre, Wood, Bloomfield, Lewis, Scowen, Kretzschmar (sub Morias), McClure, Craig (sub Styche). Substitutes not used: Horlock, McCoy, Arnold, Johnson, Kuffour.