Championship basement-dwellers Wycombe Wanderers fought back from two goals down to earn a magnificent victory at Huddersfield Town.
Going into the match, neither side had won a league tie since the turn of the year, and it looked like it would be Huddersfield ending their barren run when Juninho Bacuna and Isaac Mbenza put them ahead.
But Anis Mehmeti gave Wycombe a lifeline before the break and Joe Jacobson pulled them level from the penalty spot, before an exceptional second-half performance was completed by Josh Knight’s winner three minutes from time.
Story of the match
Huddersfield dominated possession as expected and were willing to be patient against a deep Wycombe block. After Duane Homes failed to flick a Frazier Campbell cross in at the near post in their only early chance, they kept at it and got their reward.
The opening goal came from an excellent cross-field ball from Alex Vallejo, with Campbell’s run behind catching out the defence. He wasn’t the only one; Bacuna was allowed to move unchecked as well, and Campbell had no trouble finding the midfielder for an easy nod-in.
Goalkeeper Ryan Allsop had to make two saves in quick succession as Huddersfield retained the same intent, palming away a Holmes curler following a marauding Lewis O’Brien run and then denying Pipa as well.
Wycombe only offered a fleeting threat in the opening half-hour, but their direct play was causing some problems for the home defence and Naby Sarr made a crucial block on the line to deny Uche Ikpeazu after David Wheeler flicked on Mehmeti’s cross. Sarr did exactly the same again minutes later as well, though this time a foul was given against Ikpeazu.
Just as it looked like they were mounting a fightback, they went two behind thanks to a clinical counter. Campbell and Pipa did well to advance and find Mbenza, who shifted onto his left foot to fire across goal with Allsop getting fingers to the shot, but not enough to keep it out of the bottom corner.
While Wycombe may be lacking quality this season, they’ve never lacked for effort, and the blow of going 2-0 down did not seem to register. They fought on into added time in the first half, with Knight rattling the crossbar before Mehmeti gave them a lifeline, receiving the ball from Daryl Horgan and evading the close attention of several defenders to fire a strike beyond goalkeeper Ryan Schofield.
Pipa aimed wide shortly after the restart but otherwise it was Gareth Ainsworth’s side, buoyed by their late rally before the interval, who possessed all the hunger and threat, and Schofield was very relieved when his poor decision to come out for a free-kick delivery almost gifted a leveller, but Horgan hooked a difficult effort wide.
Huddersfield would not hold on much longer though, as a contentious penalty completed the comeback. Ikpeazu drove into the box from the left, beating Pipa before going down under minimal contact from Jonathan Hogg. Referee Keith Stroud awarded the spot-kick and skipper Jacobson hammered it down the middle.
Carlos Corberan struggled to find a way to turn the momentum that was now quite firmly against his side, and Wycombe continued to threaten with wave after wave. Garath McCleary twice went close, heading a Horgan cross on target only for Schofield to impressively push the effort over the bar, and then striking too high following a dangerous run.
The pressure was relentless and, moments after Schofield somehow denied Anthony Stewart from point-blank range, the turnaround was complete. Knight comfortably controlled the ball and worked himself the space to fire into the far corner, and Wycombe survived late handball claims to earn just a fourth victory of the season.
Chairboys will fight to the end
Nobody is doubting the drive and commitment of this Wycombe team but, going into this match 13 points adrift of safety after a limp defeat just up the road at Sheffield Wednesday earlier in the week, there was a worry that their return to League One was all but confirmed already.
But on this evidence, they will go down fighting at the very least. If they are to make a real attempt at some fine escapology, it will involve exactly the same ingredients of grit, heart, mental resolve and never-say-die attitude that characterised this unlikely comeback from two goals down.
Many much better teams would have waved the white flag at 2-0 down, especially after a 40-minute period in which they had rarely threatened, been put under sustained pressure, and largely looked like a limited, functional team against superior quality.
But as Wycombe have shown throughout their rise up the divisions, there are things that can make up for that, and sheer fight and determination allowed them to turn the tide and thoroughly dominate the rest of the match.
Equally as crucial as the fightback was that they were never going to be happy with a single point after levelling the scores. That would have been a good achievement in itself but, having failed to convert draws into wins in many of their best performances this season, they got the first of the many three-point hauls that they will need in the run-in to stand a chance of survival.
Terriers defence a huge concern
This match saw the two sides with the worst defensive records in the division go head-to-head and, while Wycombe still comfortably have the most porous backline to be found in the Championship, it was the weakness of the Huddersfield defence that was most concerning.
There was nothing wrong with their showing in attack, as demonstrated in a largely excellent opening spell after which they were worthy of their two-goal lead. No team in the bottom half of the table has scored more than their 33 goals, and considering the lengthy absence for star man Josh Koroma that is a reasonable record.
But at the other end, it is a very different story. They have now conceded 42 times in 29 matches and the only team with a worse record showed them up even in that department on this dispiriting afternoon.
Wycombe offered a direct and physical threat and they looked shaky even when in control of the match, with target man Ikpeazu causing danger for the centre-backs. When the momentum had firmly shifted, Huddersfield were scrambling to make every block and challenge and seemed to have no way of stopping their opponents breaking forward time and again.
There are mitigating circumstances, with the Yorkshire side effectively missing their first-, second- and third-choice central defenders to long-term injury (Richard Stearman made a welcome return to the bench here but Christopher Schindler and Tommy Elphick remain some way off). Any coach would struggle in that case, but how Corberan manages their defence in the coming weeks will go some way to determining whether he stays in the job.
Man of the match: Uche Ikpeazu (Wycombe)
Ikpeazu’s physical presence was a constant menace for a feeble Huddersfield defence, and the striker was crucial in dragging his side back into the contest.