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

Chesterfield v Wycombe Wanderers – Sky Bet League Two – Proact Stadium
(Image credit: Barrington Coombs)

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

Sam Saunders (pictured) played under Ainsworth during two spells at the club (EFL handout/PA)

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.

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“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.

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“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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