Sam Saunders (left) hailed Gareth Ainsworth as ‘fantastic’ (Barrington Coombs/PA)
20 May 2022

Sam Saunders hails ‘fantastic’ Gareth Ainsworth before Wycombe’s play-off final

20 May 2022

Former Wycombe midfielder Sam Saunders has hailed Chairboys manager Gareth Ainsworth as “fantastic” as the club prepare to face Sunderland in the SkyBet League One play-off final.

Wycombe were relegated from the Championship last season but have a chance bounce straight back up with a win against the Black Cats at Wembley on Saturday afternoon.

Saunders played under Ainsworth during two spells at the club – on loan in 2015 before joining permanently between 2017-2019 – and he praised the manager for the work done in nearly a decade in charge at Adams Park.

Sam Saunders poses with the play-off trophy ()

Speaking on behalf of the EFL before the final, Saunders told the PA news agency: “It was a really good place to work.

“Gaz (Ainsworth) every day was positive, good demands, wanted the best for his players, wanted the best for his team and, like I say, good guys and good people to work with.

“Just being part of a group who are all going the same way, no egos, all for the team, it was really nice to be a part of.

“Gaz is such a good guy, he does things right and he’s consistent in his messages and he’s good to people, he’s a people person in his energy.

“He’d never ask you to do anything he wasn’t willing to do. So as a player, you’ve got the point straight away. He’s warts and all – he tells you exactly how it is, he’ll be as fair as he possibly can.

“You’ll run through a brick wall for Gaz, but you’ll also run through a brick wall for your team-mate who’s right of you and your team-mate who’s left of you because there’s such a tightknit squad, you just don’t want to let anyone down.

“Yes, Gaz has been fantastic but Gaz alone will admit it’s not just him, it’s a whole collective.”

Ainsworth led Wycombe to a sixth-placed finish in League One this season and they reached the play-off final after beating MK Dons 2-1 on aggregate in the semi-finals.

Their previous meetings with Sunderland this season saw the Black Cats win 3-1 in September as well as a 3-3 draw in January, and Saunders admitted he was unable to predict who would win on Saturday.

“Honestly I can’t call it,” he said.

“I’ll be completely honest, I wouldn’t be surprised if it was a 4-2. I wouldn’t be surprised if it was a 1-0 and Wycombe nicked it from a corner. I cannot call it.

“It is going to be a fantastic game, whether it’s going to be really tight and really tactical or whether it’s going to be a humping with both teams being really open and going to go from side-to-side.

“I don’t know which way it’s going to pan out but I know for a fact, the atmosphere is going to be fantastic and it should be a really good game.”

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