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The tie saw stand-in boss Steve Brown make two changes to the side that had won 2-0 at Peterborough United on the final day of the regular season but also stick with youngster Steve Williams between the sticks in favour of Frank Talia. Up front Tommy Mooney returned with Jermaine Easter relegated to the bench having recovered from his ankle injury. In midfield the experience of Rob Lee was preferred ahead of Joe Burnell, the latter passing a late fitness test to take his place on the bench.
Kick-off for the match had already been adjusted to 6.05pm to suit the live TV coverage by Sky but there was a further 15 minute delay after the FA Cup final played earlier in the day went into extra-time and a penalty shoot out. When the game finally got underway it was Wycombe who looked the brighter side but in what has become a familiar pattern in recent weeks at Adams Park, the visiting keeper was rarely tested before the visitors stole a goal shortly before the break. Early chances for Wycombe fell to Martin who saw an effort blocked by Shane Duff and then Antwi who couldn't get enough on a header from Mooney's cross. The most controversial point in the game came in the 30th minute when a clumsy aeriel challenge by Steve Guinan on Lee left the former England player needing seven stitches in a nasty cut just below his eye inflicted by a the trailing elbow of the Cheltenham player. Referee Andy Hall deemed a yellow card sufficient punishment.
The Robins opening goal two minutes before the break came when Duff headed on to Finnigan down the right channel and Williams was beaten with an angled shot into the far corner of the Valley End net.
Wanderers came out chasing the game in the second period with Mooney seeing a header pushed away by Shane Higgs in the Cheltenham goal on 47 minutes. But the visitors continued to be a threat when they attacked and some slack defending on 55 minutes saw Guinan allowed space at the far post but he headed wide with the goal at his mercy. Easter replaced Ian Stonebridge shortly afterwards and the former Stockport striker went close with a curling effort from the left channel on 68 minutes as Wycombe continued to seek the equaliser.
Cheltenham's second goal of the tie came when Kayode Odejayi's pass found Guinan running into the Wycombe penalty area from the right channel with the resulting shot taking a vital deflection off Roger Johnson to take the ball past Steve Williams. It was a body blow for Wycombe but with Cheltenham almost ready to celebrate having one foot at Cardiff up popped Tommy Mooney to set-up an intriguing second-leg at Whaddon Road.
Final Score - Wycombe 1 Cheltenham Town 2
Talking to the media after the first leg defeat to Cheltenham Town, Wanderers stand-in boss Steve Brown said he was already looking forward to the second-leg, commenting, "We play better away from home. The lads are more relaxed and play with more confidence. I don't think home advantage really matters. It's just two games. Tommy Mooney's late goal today was fantastic. It put us back in the tie and makes for a wonderful second leg." He added, "You could call our goal a lifeline but I felt we fully deserved it. The next goal in the tie is the crucial goal and we've got to make sure it's us who gets it."
Meanwhile, Cheltenham boss John Ward commented, "I've told the boys not to be too disappointed. If I'd said at half-time we'd be a goal up at the end, we'd have taken it." Ward, who turned down the chance to manage Wycombe back in 1999, added, "We're in a decent position but football kicks you where you don't like it if you start crowing about things. We will have to work exceptionally hard on Thursday to beat this Wycombe team and without doubt we have a chance but so do they."
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