Feb 23 2010 By Greg Burns at Adams Park
IT is a clear sign of how far Wycombe Wanderers have come in recent weeks that they were left wondering how they did not beat in-form Southampton - who were lucky to escape Adams Park with a point.
Wanderers dominated their south-coast opponents for the entire first-half and hit the bar through Jon-Paul Pittman in the second but could not find the breakthrough and secure back-to-back home wins.
It looks like a valuable point for Blues but what is more encouraging is the solid defensive performances they have been putting in which will be further lifted by giving Southampton a real scare and possibly ending their own slim play-off hopes.
Wycombe remain five points off League One safety but, after hitting play-off form of their own, they have giving themselves real hope that they can get out of trouble.
After their hard-fought weekend win over Millwall, Blues boss Gary Waddock said he would assess the freshness of his squad before deciding on his first XI against the former Premier League regulars.
But the only player to drop out was ill Matt Harrold, who was replaced by Pittman, as Waddock kept faith with the same warriors who came through their test against the Lions so bravely here on the weekend.
The scale of their task was highlighted by the fact that on the same afternoon Alan Pardew's side were winning 2-0 at league leaders Norwich City.
And the Saints boss showed Wycombe ultimate respect by only making one enforced change to that side with Michail Antonio coming in for injured French U20-midfielder Morgan Schneiderlin.
It was only 11 weeks ago that a goal from League One top scorer Rickie Lambert was enough to beat Wycombe at St Mary's.
But it is a sign of the transition that both these sides have been through in January that only Craig Woodman, John Mousinho and Kevin Betsy played for Blues that night with Radhi Jaidi, Dan Harding, Adam Lallana, Dean Hammond and Lambert the only survivors in the Saints line-up.
The home side were presented with a golden chance to take the lead in the first minute when a Woodman cross was completely missed by former Bolton centre-half Jaidi with Pittman unable to get any power behind his shot.
Heavy rain and a Guiness Premiership game on Sunday - making it three games in four days - had left the Adams Park pitch slightly cut-up and with both goalkeepers taking no chances with pass backs.
But if was not as bad as some pitches seen around the country in recent weeks - Wigan, Blackburn and Colchester in particular - and actually played reasonably well.
It was Wanderers who had picked up where they left on in the early stages with Alex Revell and Betsy linking up well and Pittman looking to use his pace against the ageing 35-year old legs of Jaidi.
The dangerous Saints attacking partnership of Lambert and Lee Barnard, who had scored 36 goals between them in the division this season -stood out for the visitors on their team-sheet but they were well shackled and starved of service throughout the game as their side put on a toothless display.
Southampton did began to work their way into the game after 15 minutes with skipper Dean Hammond having a shot blocked and Jason Puncheon firing straight at Blues keeper Tom Heaton.
The game had sprung to life and Wycombe had another great chance on 20 minutes when a Dean Keates corner was headed down by Pittman with Betsy powerfully lashing the ball on the turn. But Saints keeper Kelvin Davis spread himself well to make the save from close range.
Pardew's play-off chasers looked rattled and kept over hitting passes much to the delight of the home faithful. Whereas Wycombe were playing with confidence and sharpness as they dominated.
Revell had Davis' heart in his mouth on 26 minutes when his cross just crept past the top corner as Blues continued to carve openings with their neat passing and movement.
Their great start was highlighted on 34 minutes when Pardew dragged off Antonio and replaced him with midfield veteran Paul Wotton to try and swing the game in their favour.
Two minutes later, however, a hopeful ball by Woodman fell to Keates who fired a weak shot at Davis, but the keeper fumbled the ball and had to scramble desperately to stop it creeping over the line.
Puncheon had a sight of goal six minutes before half-time when he fired a low shot wide of the post from 20 yards out. It was the best chance Saints had mustered so far and summed up how well Wycombe were containing them.
But they failed to get the goal their first-half performance deserved.
Waddock had his troops fired up for the second-half with his side out on the pitch minutes before Pardew had finished giving his side a half-time dressing down.
The second-half was a more scrappy affair with Wycombe competing well with a Saints side unable to pick up their performance.
It was a turning into a game which looked like needing a goal to spice it up. Keates nearly stepped up but fired into the side-netting after making a good run into the box.
But the game was fast turning into a slog with no more chances created at the hour as the entertainment value dropped. Whoever could play the conditions better was looking more likely to snatch a victory.
Promising Saints talent Lallana, 21, had endured a poor night and he fired his first clear sight at goal well over the bar on 62 minutes after Lambert had headed the ball into his path.
That was before Puncheon fizzed in a low ball into the box which the usually lethal Lambert failed to divert into the goal. It was a sign of the cobwebs covering the Saints strikeforce as his tame effort went straight into the arms of Heaton.
It was a warning shot to Wycombe who had been sucked into a war of atrition. They could not afford to understimate their opposition.
And Blues had the best chance of the whole game on 70 minutes when Pittman forced Davis to tip a well-placed volley onto the bar and away from danger. Wycombe should have put this game to bed by now.
A desperate Pardew, with his side 17 points off the play-off places, made his second change with on-loan Fiorentina striker Papa Waigo N'Diaye coming on for under-par Barnard three minutes later.
But it was Lallana who looked set to sting Wycombe when he darted into the box but screwed his low shot just inches past the post and a sprawling Heaton. Southampton had chances left in them.
It had taken until the 75th minute for the game to liven up again.
Pittman nearly scored a magical goal four minutes later when he made a darting run from the touchline but, once he got into the box, he had run out of legs and sidefooted his shot wide of the post.
Lambert tested Heaton with a fizzing 30-yard free-kick with six minutes to go but the Man Utd loanee was more than a match for the effort and did well to hold onto the ball in the mud.
But the game petered out to a stalemate which keeps Wanderers unbeaten in three games ahead of their six-pointer clash at Stockport on Saturday.
WANDERERS: Heaton 7, Woodman 8, Bennett 8, Westwood 8, Kelly 8, Betsy 8, Mousinho 7, Keates 8, McLeod 7, Revell 7, PITTMAN 9.
Subs (not used): Shearer, Oliver, Bloomfield, Montrose, Phillips, Beavon, Hinshelwood.
Booked: Bennet (67).