Olsen still hoping for the best

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The Independent Online

SO IT remains. The last team Wimbledon managed to beat in a Premiership fixture at Selhurst Park were Derby County. That the match in question took place on 9 January may give their manager Egil Olsen cause for concern after an erratic home draw against the same opponents some nine months later.

SO IT remains. The last team Wimbledon managed to beat in a Premiership fixture at Selhurst Park were Derby County. That the match in question took place on 9 January may give their manager Egil Olsen cause for concern after an erratic home draw against the same opponents some nine months later.

For all Olsen's talk of zonal defence systems, on current form the only zone the home side are in danger of experimenting with is labelled relegation. Technically, then, Wimbledon were poor, save for an exuberant and inspired spell in the second half.

"I think we are improving," Olsen said. "It's probably the best match that we've played this season." Up to a point, perhaps, but only if one discounts the entire first half.

Despite sporadic neat interchanges between the Derby strikers, Jamaica's Deon Burton and Argentina's Esteban Fuertes, Wimbledon's more direct approach held sway in the opening 15 minutes. Derby, however, showed that their hosts' dominance was merely territorial as they took the lead against the run of play. A free-kick from Seth Johnson on the right-hand side was headed past Neil Sullivan by Horacio Carbonari.

A scuffed shot from Carl Cort and a well-struck 25-yard effort from Andy Roberts were Wimbledon's most promising opportunities in a half during which they offered little in the way of inspiration or sophistication. They resembled an ill-prepared park team wearied by the heat of late summer and their own lack of invention - elementary missed passes, poor control and rudimentary offsides all contributed to the sorry spectacle.

Their pride perhaps hurt after an inept opening half, Wimbledon attacked afresh after the break. John Hartson soon had their best chance of the match, managing to keep a difficult high volley on target, a technically difficult strike well saved by Russell Hoult.

Minutes later, the Welsh international employed neat control to beat two players, only to shoot tamely at the goalkeeper. Marcus Gayle also wasted a chance from a narrow angle while Jason Euell aimed yet another shot high over the bar when set up by Cort.

Wimbledon's equaliser was thus deserved, but it was still surprising when they scored twice within a minute. The first goal came from a Cort cross which Hartson headed past Hoult; the second, again from a Cort delivery, saw Euell nod in a resounding header.

There followed a period of heavy Wimbledon pressure but, with no further goals to accompany it, Derby were in with a chance. And how they took it. A marvellous cross from the substitute Francesco Baiano was met by the straining forehead of Johnson, whose powerful strike beat Sullivan to earn his side a point.

"I thought we looked like a winning team after 20 minutes of the second half," Olsen noted, "but, towards the end of the match, we did some silly things. What I'm most happy about today is that we created so many chances, enough to win the game."

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