Adam El-Abd scored the winning penalty as Wycombe Wanderers progressed in the League Cup for the first time since 2011. It was a promising performance for the most part, although Gareth Ainsworth would have been disappointing that his side let Northampton back into the game after being so comfortable at 1-0. It could have easily been even worse though as the visitors also missed a penalty before equalising just a few minutes later.
Wanderers made seven changes to their starting eleven from the defeat at Doncaster with the headline news being a second debut for marquee signing Jason McCarthy. Adebayo Akinfenwa and Sam Saunders were the biggest names to be rested, as Curtis Thompson, Nick Freeman and Yves Ma-Kalambay made relatively rare starts. Scott Kashket pleasingly returned to the bench after a spell on the sidelines, although there was still no sign of a comeback for Nathan Tyson and Darius Charles.
The League Two visitors also rang the changes for this cup encounter, with no fewer than nine alterations from their draw at Carlisle. Lewis Ward and former Wycombe youngster Junior Morias made their debuts for the Cobblers, while Shay Facey earned his first appearance of the campaign. Aaron Pierre, who played 121 times for the home side, didn’t make the squad for the visitors and decided to sit with the home fans after choosing not to sign a contract in 2017 and sign for Northampton, which looks like it hasn’t worked out after last season’s events.
The game started evenly with Billy Waters looking the most dangerous player for the Cobblers and going close a couple of times in the opening minutes. Craig Mackail-Smith was looking to stake a claim for a starting place in the league, and forced a save out of Lewis Ward with a driven effort. The same man then found himself in on goal but took a heavy touch to go round the keeper, which allowed the defenders to clear his goal-bound shot. Jason McCarthy was causing problems down the right flank, and almost scored straight from a cross as the Chairboys looked to assert some dominance. Jack Bridge worked Ma-Kalambay after a downward header from a corner, before Dom Gape struck well wide from a free-kick when the better option was probably to put it into the mixer. Nick Freeman then had a couple of opportunities to open the scoring, but Ward was equal to them both. As the game edged towards half-time, Adam El-Abd rose brilliantly from a corner and his header looked destined for the net, but Ward pulled off another save to ensure it was goalless at the break.
HALF-TIME: Wycombe Wanderers 0-0 Northampton Town
Wycombe started the second half like they ended the first with Curtis Thompson and Mackail-Smith both trying their luck from range. Junior Morias then made the most of a defensive error to get in behind the Chairboys defence but he could only fire comfortbaly wide. The opener would eventually come though as Randell Williams played a one-two with Craig Mackail-Smith before getting himself in the box to head home a cross from teammate. Wycombe’s first competitive goal of the season, and it put them on the verge of a rare win in the League Cup. This could have been assured soon after, as Jason McCarthy nearly scored from a corner and other promising attacks faltered at the final hurdle. Nick Freeman and Michael Harriman then tried to seal the Chairboys’ progression with ambitious efforts, and the latter’s was probably going in if it wasn’t for a last-ditch block from Leon Barnett. Northampton then won a penalty after Dom Gape hauled down Jack Bridge, but Ma-Kalambay made a good save low to his left from Ash Taylor. However, penalties were soon looming when sub Sam Hoskins fired home from around twelve yards out to the delight of the 427 travelling fans. Another header from McCarthy nearly won it for Wycombe, but the game was to be decided by a penalty shoot out.
FULL-TIME: Wycombe Wanderers 1-1 Northampton Town
Wycombe won the toss, so the penalties were to be taken in front of the home terrace. The first miss came from Northampton goalscorer Sam Hoskins, whose penalty came back off the post, perhaps via a touch from Ma-Kalambay. The next four efforts were all scored, although the Wanderers ‘keeper was trying to slow things down as much as possible by taking his gloves off then putting them back on before each penalty. Craig Mackail-Smith then stepped up to take his side one away from victory, but he skied it over the bar which meant sudden death. Ash Taylor just about made up for his miss in regular time as his penalty squeezed in, so Scott Kashket needed to score to keep Wycombe in it. You feel his confidence can’t have been that high after scoring one goal last season in a campaign plagued with injury. However, he incredibly chose to audaciously dink it down the middle to ensure the shoot out went on. Curtis Thompson and Dom Gape then kept their side in it, but Northampton’s eighth penalty was finally saved by Ma-Kalambay, meaning that skipper Adam El-Abd had the chance to win it. He did that with aplomb to seal a 7-6 penalty win for Wycombe.
PENALTIES: Wycombe Wanderers 7-6 Northampton Town
A game that probably could have been won in normal time, but the chance of a cup run could do wonders for confidence in this probable relegation fight for the Chairboys. They await the second round draw for the first time in seven years, before the visit of Bristol Rovers in League One on Saturday in a pretty crucial game for both sides.