The Wycombe view on Rob Couhig's Sunderland comments, Josh Scowen, Gareth Ainsworth and the League One play-off final

Sunderland will face Wycombe Wanderers at Wembley in the League One play-off final – but what can they expect? And how are the Chairboys shaping up ahead of the match?

Sunday, 15th May 2022, 12:00 pm

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Gareth Ainsworth’s side finished sixth in the table, a point behind Sunderland, and beat MK Dons over two legs in the play-off semi-finals.

When the sides last met they played out an entertaining 3-3 draw at Adams Park, while Sunderland won the reverse fixture 3-1 at the Stadium of Light back in August – courtesy of a brace from Ross Stewart and an excellent Elliot Embleton strike.

To find out more we caught up with Wycombe reporter James Richings from Bucks Free Press to get the inside track:

Wycombe players celebrate after beating MK Dons over two legs in the League One play-offs. (Photo by Marc Atkins/Getty Images)

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What’s the feeling like among Wycombe supporters ahead of the match?

JR: “The main feeling around the Wycombe camp is excitement. It’s the first time in seven years that the Chairboys faithful will be able to watch Wanderers in a final, after the 2020 League One play-off final against Oxford was played behind closed doors due to Covid.

“The Wycombe fans all know that Sunderland are a huge club and are one of the biggest outside of the Premier League, so to be in a final against them for a place in the Championship is huge, and whatever Wanderers’ fate is, the level of excitement around the area is evident to see.

“Fans have got their flags, scarves and shirts hanging in the windows of their houses and cars because this is one of the biggest games in the club’s history.”

How would you sum up the job Gareth Ainsworth has done this season?

JR: “I think he’s done brilliantly. 83 points for Wycombe in League One is tremendous and, personally, I think Wycombe get disrespected by fans of other clubs due to their small stature, compared to others.

"David Stockdale jointly won the Golden Glove award this season, the Chairboys were 13 unbeaten before losing the play-off second leg at MK Dons, they were top of the league in January and they have not dropped below ninth this league season.

"Ainsworth has worked wonders and it’s no surprise that he’s been linked with other jobs.”

What system are Wycombe likely to play?

JR: “When Wycombe defeated Cambridge 3-0 at Adams Park on March 1, it ended a run of seven league games without a win.

“That day, Wanderers played with four at the back rather than their usual three, with two wing-backs and the change in formation worked.

“After the match, Ainsworth admitted that being ‘unpredictable is a real strength’, so only he will know what system Wanderers will play. It’s a real hard one.

“Usually, they will allow their opponents to have all of the ball, tire them out, and get them when they are not aware.

“This has been seen so many times throughout the season.”

Who are their key players?

JR: “Of course Sam Vokes is one of the main men. He has scored 17 league goals for Wycombe this season in what has been a brilliant first year at the club.

"Other players include former Sunderland man, Josh Scowen, who has been a real anchor in the centre of midfield, while Garath McCleary and Anis Mehmeti have shown their quality from the wings.”

Scowen obviously left Sunderland last summer – how would you sum up his season?

JR: “Scowen returning to Wycombe has worked wonders.

“Out of the 37 league games he played for Wycombe this season, he has started 36 of them.

“The only time he hasn’t completed 90 minutes in the league was when he was sent off in the 1-1 draw against Lincoln back in February, while he missed nine games during the back end of 2021 with an injury.

“He covers every blade of grass and has got a N’Golo Kante-sque engine that never seems to run out of steam.

“Scowen has been the anchor in the midfiler, he is demanding of the ball, he is not afraid to get stuck in and he likes to shoot from range.

“He has been a welcome addition to the squad.”

What have people made of the chairman’s comments about Sunderland?

JR: “It’s fair to say that Rob Couhig’s comments went down the middle with some fans, as some didn’t think anything of it and appreciated them while others were a bit surprised.

“Throughout the course of the season, Wanderers have had their doubters and critics for being one of the so-called ‘smaller clubs’ in the league, fighting for one of the biggest prizes.

“Some rival fans and journalists have even suggested that due to Wanderers’ small stature compared to some of the other teams in League One, fighting for a place in the Championship should just be involving teams that were once in the Premier League.

“They have taken a lot of flak for just getting on with their job.

“This season, Wycombe haven’t dropped below ninth in the league and prior to the second leg loss against MK in the play-off semis, (which saw them go through), they were unbeaten in 13 matches.

“So with the comments, I personally read it as so-called ‘trash talk’ or banter that wasn’t meant to directly insult anyone.

“All in jest I believe, and it’ll make the final even more spicier which is something we want, regardless if people agree or disagree with the comments.”

What is your predicted line-up?

JR: “Stockdale; Tafazolli, Stewart, Jacobson; McCarthy, Scowen, Gape, Obita; McCleary, Horgan; Vokes”