Football / Vauxhall Conference: Bromsgrove prowess confirmed: Rupert Metcalf watches the league leaders stay on top despite their fall from grace

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The Independent Online
DESPITE their second defeat in three league games, Wycombe Wanderers still hold a 12-point lead at the top of the GM Vauxhall Conference, and remain on course for promotion to the Football League they so nearly reached last season. They can afford the odd off-day - but Saturday's 1-0 reversal at Bromsgrove Rovers will have shown them that the fourth-placed Worcestershire team are capable of mounting a challenge for the solitary promotion place.

Even though they lost 4-0 at Wycombe last month, Bromsgrove, the Beazer Homes League champions, were hailed as the best team to visit Adams Park - where the home side have a 100 per cent record - this term. In front of a post-war record league crowd of 3,675 at their Victoria Ground, Rovers enhanced their reputation with a display that matched formidable defensive determination with sharp opportunism in attack.

After an even first period, in which Bromsgrove came closest to scoring when Steve Cooper, a lively winger, saw his shot kicked off the line by Matt Crossley, the men in green and white took control in the second. They were rewarded five minutes from the end when their outstanding sweeper, Kevin Richardson, delivered a left-flank free-kick to the far side of a crowded penalty area, where Steve Stott won a decisive header to set up Mark Whitehouse for a side-footed goal from five yards.

The goal was the signal for an already volatile game to reach the brink of lawlessness. Wycombe's captain, Glyn Creaser, was sent off three minutes from time for what Martin O'Neill, his manager, called 'an arm-throwing incident - it was a very harsh decision'. Their aggressive right-back, Jason Cousins, who had been fortunate not to depart before Creaser, had to be pulled away from the referee after the final whistle. O'Neill felt the need to visit the home dressing-room afterwards to apologise for his players' conduct.

Before feuds replaced football, Wycombe played well in spells but did not create many chances. Last season they piled up 94 points but were pipped for the title on goal difference by Colchester. Despite Saturday's setback, O'Neill, the former Nottingham Forest and Northern Ireland midfield player, remains confident. 'It's still a good start,' he said. 'We've gained 31 out of 39 points. But, week in, week out, teams are raising their game when they meet us. It looked like they (Bromsgrove) had won a European Cup final at the end.'

Wycombe certainly have the support to sustain a League club - their last home crowd was over 4,000 - and they have a thoughtful, capable manager they can be proud of. O'Neill turned down an offer from Bristol Rovers last year - 'there is more potential at Wycombe,' he said - and, so far, he has no regrets.

Goal: Whitehouse (85) 1-0.

Bromsgrove Rovers: Cooksey; Skelding, Brighton, Richardson, Wardle, Shilvock, Cooper, Stott, Whitehouse, Webb, Gray. Substitutes not used: O'Meara, Crisp.

Wycombe Wanderers: Hyde; Cousins, Crossley, Kerr, Creaser, Hutchinson, Carroll, Casey, Stapleton, Scott, Guppy. Substitutes not used: Greene, Ryan.

Referee: J Holbrook (Shropshire).

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