Abysmal performance leaves City on brink

Wimbledon 3 Manchester City 0
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The Independent Online
CLIVE WHITE

Wimbledon 3 Manchester City 0

At the final whistle, our one-time World Cup winner, Alan Ball, stalked off, not waiting to shake hands with his opposite number, his head held high, but surely not with pride in his team's abysmal performance.

Manchester City are staring relegation in the face, even more obviously than they did after the first 11 games of this troubled season when they had just two points.

Even Ball found it hard to explain away this one, commenting somewhat lamely: "We'll have to do a little bit better than that."

As understatements go, that one takes some beating.

Moments before he had arrived in the press box to link arms with Joe Kinnear, an old adversary from his (happier) playing days, City's performance had been put in rather sharper perspective by the Wimbledon manager. "If you looked at the two sides today there was only going to be one winner. They are going to have to do a lot better than they did here. They may get away with it, but only because of the poor quality of the rest of the sides down there."

It was fairly damning criticism and furthermore right on the mark. Whether or not the Manchester derby had left City emotionally drained, rarely can a side have offered so little when so much was at stake.

Lack of effort, of course, has never been a criticism one can level at Wimbledon and no one epitomised better what they stood for than Vinnie Jones, who for all his faults, has a voracious appetite for work and was the driving force behind this victory secured with three goals in a 30- minute spell either side of half-time.

When City eventually surrendered the initiative, they did so through what Ball more accurately described as "a shocking mistake" by Michael Frontzeck. He omitted to mention that it was not the first time that the German international had surrendered possession when he gave the ball away to Jones. Robbie Earle's diving header to Neil Ardley's cross showed all the bravery that Ball's men lacked.

Up until then, City had reasonable possession, Nigel Clough, in particular, finding ample space. But they quickly collapsed, mindful perhaps of a record of one win in 18 League games away from home.

A minute after the restart, Earle headed in from an overhead kick by Jones after Mark Scales' own headed effort had bounced off the crossbar. Bad went to worse as Kit Symons hooked the ball back across the face of his own goal and Efan Ekoku thundered in to make a perfect connection.

City were even denied a consolation goal when Georgi Kinkladze wriggled free of his man-marker to plant the ball wide of Neil Sullivan only for Chris Perry to race back and clear from the goal-line. With 13 points out of the last 24, Wimbledon are now sitting pretty in the relegation race. Or as Kinnear put it: "We're home, hosed and smoking".

Not so Manchester City, and Ball hopes the players realise their part in proceedings. "They want all the sunshine and all the accolades in the world," he said. "They are top professionals and must accept responsibility for the position this club is in."

If there was any good news to be had on this day, it was in the shared misery of Southampton and Coventry. But City's poor goal difference could count against them. Their last game of the season is at home to Liverpool and for their sake they must hope that the Merseysiders' minds will be on the following week's Cup final.

Wimbledon (4-4-2): Sullivan; Ardley, Perry, Pearce, Kimble; Gayle (Clarke, 67), Earle, Jones, Cunningham; Ekoku (Goodman, 75), Holdsworth. Substitute not used: Reeves.

Manchester City (4-4-2): Immel; Brightwell, Curle, Symons, Frontzeck; Summerbee (Phillips, 60), Kinkladze, Clough, Lomas; Kavelashvili, Quinn (Rosler, 60). Substitute not used: Kernaghan.

Referee: G Poll (Tring).

Battle for survival

P W D L F A Pts GD

Wimbledon 34 9 10 15 51 64 37 -13

Soton 34 7 10 17 30 50 31 -20

Man City 35 7 10 18 29 56 31 -27

QPR 35 8 6 21 35 53 30 -18

Coventry 34 6 12 16 39 60 30 -21

Bolton 35 8 5 22 38 67 29 -29

Remaining fixtures

MAN CITY: Apr 13 Sheff Wed (H); Apr 27 Aston Villa (A); May 5 Liverpool (H).

SOUTHAMPTON: Apr 13 Man Utd (H); Apr 17 Newcastle (A); Apr 27 Bolton (A); May 5 Wimbledon (H).

QUEEN'S PARK RANGERS: Apr 13 Coventry (A); Apr 27 West Ham (H); May 5 Nottm Forest (A)

COVENTRY: Apr 13 QPR (H); Apr 17 Nottm Forest (A); Apr 27 Wimbledon (A); May 5 Leeds (H).

BOLTON: Apr 13 West Ham (A); Apr 27 Southampton (H); May 5 Arsenal (A).

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