Cowan-Hall 52, 77
AN enthralling match ended in another frustrating outcome for the unfortunate Gulls at Wycombe Wanderers.
United have performed well on numerous occasions in recent weeks but the final result has gone the wrong way, and this was yet another example in an infuriating catalogue.
Ade Azeez opened the scoring for the Gulls on 27 minutes and even though Jo Kuffour instantly equalised, Krystian Pearce restored the Yellow lead before half-time.
Wycombe were always going to start the second period at a high tempo and United were unable to resist the home surge, as Paris Cowan-Hall equalised again on 52 minutes and the same man then secured a home win with 13 minutes remaining.
United boss Alan Knill made three changes to the side defeated 3-0 at home to York last weekend, as injury ruled out Ben Harding from the midfield, while Billy Bodin and recent loan signing Anthony O’Connor were away on international duty.
Pearce came back to the Yellow defence after a struggle with illness and Damon Lathrope started alongside Lee Mansell in the engine room. The other new face was Elliot Benyon beginning the game in attack, pushing Azeez into a wide right role.
The United bench included new loan signing from Leicester, Jak McCourt, and goalkeeper Michael Poke was fit enough to take his place among the replacements for the first time this season after a campaign blighted by thigh trouble. Young defenders Kirtys MacKenzie and Jake Hutchings were also named as substitutes.
Wycombe manager Gareth Ainsworth stuck with the same team that recorded an excellent 2-1 JPT triumph over League 1 side Bristol City in midweek. The two extra spaces allowed on the bench for a league encounter went to Jon-Paul Pittman and Tommy Fletcher.
A gentle start to the proceedings allowed the Gulls to settle nicely into their afternoon’s work and the first thing to notice was the lack of height in both strike-pairings, which, in theory, would promote a passing game.
The first real moment of attacking incision came from Wycombe’s former Gull, Kuffour, running at United right-back Dale Tonge, who stood his ground to concede a corner, which was well cleared by Tom Cruise.
The plodding pace continued with the Yellows unable to place the home side under any real pressure, although the speed of Azeez looked a potential problem for Wycombe left-back Sam Wood.
As if to prove the point, United’s loan man from Charlton brushed past Wood on 21 minutes to force a throw-in deep in the Wanderers half and the ball found a way to Kevin Nicholson to lash a shot goalwards, but Karl Hawley was marginally offside as he diverted the effort inches over.
There was growing confidence in United ranks and the opening goal was probably deserved. It started with Nicholson overlapping on the left to pick up a pass from Jordan Chapell.
The first shot was blocked by the Wycombe defence but the rebound was perfect for Adeez to crack home a tremendous finish inside the far post. A great goal and important lead, but it would be immediately wiped out.
Kuffour was the man to score, although Pearce had justified claims that he was fouled in the build up. Referee Stockbridge kept his whistle quiet and Kuffour was able to scramble the ball past Martin Rice for an instant equaliser.
It was a difficult moment for Pearce, who was struggling to contain his dismay at the decision but the Gulls were still level in the game, and had shown enough to say they were more than a match for the home team.
Azeez remained a massive threat to the Wycombe defence and he won a corner delivered by Nicholson, who picked out Pearce for a free header and he should have done a lot better than steer the effort wide.
At the other end, a clever chipped pass from Stuart Lewis found former Plymouth striker Cowan-Hall in space seven yards from goal but his radar was wonky for a left-volley steered well off target.
A dramatic afternoon for Pearce took yet another twist with eight minutes to go before half-time, as the big defender climbed highest from a Mansell corner. The header was thumped into the ground and bounced over the goal-line via a Wycombe foot and the home crossbar.
Lathrope then sought to build on the bright mood for United with a super left-foot drive that dipped narrowly over with Wycombe goalkeeper Matt Ingram struggling to cover his angles.
The Gulls trundled happily toward the interval with the satisfaction of a strong first-half display and the team-talk from Knill would have surely focussed on consolidating the Yellow advantage, while maintaining the threat on Wycombe’s backline.
All the chat was exchanged for nervous glances at the start of the second period, as a deep free-kick saw Cruise muscling awkwardly with Kuffour in the box but an offside flag prevented the need for a difficult penalty decision.
It was a momentary reprieve for the Gulls and Wycombe were level again on 52 minutes. Right-back Nick Arnold sent a deep cross to Matt Bloomfield, who returned the ball to the middle for the unmarked Cowan-Hall to plant a comfortable header past the stranded Rice.
There was no arguing it was a sloppy moment for United and Pearce was the man again attempting to rectify the situation, rising high from another Mansell corner to force a header at goal, but Wood was well placed to hack clear.
It was Wycombe, however, who were looking the more dangerous outfit and a tremendous first-time shot by Billy Knott flashed just past the post with Rice rooted to the spot.
The first change of the afternoon arrived just after the hour, with Kuffour withdrawn for Jon-Paul Pittman, who was welcomed to the game by a robust challenge from Tonge. Rice was then called into action to thwart a shot from Anthony Stewart.
United countered in terrific fashion through Chapell, who forced a corner when Wood blocked his shot. The subsequent corner ended up with Azeez again causing problems but his shot flew over the bar.
A brilliant match was just getting better all the time and Rice took the applause of Adams Park as he produced a stunning save to deny Pittman with Bloomfield also lurking in the danger zone. United then made their first switch with the introduction of McCourt for Benyon, while Wycombe removed Bloomfield for Max Kretzschmar.
Moments later, another free header enabled Wycombe to snatch the lead. A routine corner from Knott found Cowan-Hall 12 yards from goal and he did well to steer his header in off the far post, leaving Rice with no chance.
Ainsworth removed Cowan-Hall for Matt Spring in the closing minutes but the onus was now on United to rediscover their first-half tempo and impetus in the bid to secure the point their overall display deserved.
The Gulls made their next change by withdrawing Lathrope for Nathan Craig to give the Welshman his first outing of the season but the action remained a frustratingly safe distance from the Wycombe goal.
Courtney Cameron came on for Mansell in the dying minutes but United were unable to conjure that one final opportunity to rescue the game.
Wycombe [4-4-2]: 1 Matt Ingram; 23 Nick Arnold, 19 Kortney Hause, 5 Anthony Stewart, 11 Sam Wood; 10 Matt Bloomfield [22 Max Kretzschmar 75], 4 Josh Scowen, 28 Billy Knott, 8 Stuart Lewis; 12 Paris Cowan-Hall [9 Matt Spring 81], 18 Jo Kuffour [16 Jon-Paul Pittman 61]. Substitutes [not used]: 2 Marvin McCoy, 13 Charlie Horlock [GK], 17 Junior Morias, 25 Tommy Fletcher.
United [4-4-2]: 13 Martin Rice; 2 Dale Tonge, 5 Krystian Pearce, 21 Thomas Cruise, 3 Kevin Nicholson; 23 Ade Azeez, 6 Damon Lathrope [20 Nathan Craig 83], 7 Lee Mansell [capt] [11 Courtney Cameron 90], 12 Jordan Chapell; 9 Karl Hawley, 26 Elliot Benyon [17 Jak McCourt 75]. Substitutes [not used]: 1 Michael Poke, 30 Kirtys MacKenzie, 31 Daniel Sullivan, 32 Jake Hutchings.
Booked: Lathrope 59, Pearce 64
Referee: Sebastian Stockbridge