Beasant sins for struggling Saints

Football Wimbledon 3 Southampton 1
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The Independent Online
Those three defeats with which Wimbledon kicked off the season are fading fast from the memory. Last night at Selhurst Park they powered their way to sixth place in the Premiership with their fifth consecutive League and Cup win and can look forward to cocking a snook at their peers for an 11th successive season in the top flight.

Southampton can be grateful they did not hit rock bottom in the table on goal difference. Substitute Matthew Oakley spared them that indignity with his first Premiership goal late on, but by then the Saints ought to have been sunk without trace. Efan Ekoku helped himself to a brace but could easily have had twice as many.

The odd thing is that Southampton had most of the game - territorially - but lacked the numbers in defence to deal with Wimbledon's fast-breaking raids, while in attack it was a lack of quality rather than quantity.

Deep in the mire they may be, but when you have undergone heart surgery, as their manager Graeme Souness has, "it doesn't count on a scale of one to 10. I've been there and back," he said. "As in life you can only find out about yourself when your back is pinned firmly against the wall."

The importance of remaining aboard the Premiership gravytrain, even to the exclusion of a journey up the road to Wembley, had been apparent in Wimbledon's decision to make 10 changes for last week's Coca-Cola Cup tie. Last night eight of the regulars returned and it took a mere 12 minutes for them to shake off the rust.

Souness was aggrieved about the manner in which Wimbledon opened the scoring but television evidence proved that Ekoku was merely standing his ground when Dave Beasant was prevented from reaching Robbie Slater's up-and-under headed clearance. Marcus Gayle lashed the loose ball home and Southampton protested in vain.

Wimbledon doubled their advantage seven minutes before half-time when, again, Beasant came off the worse in a duel with Ekoku. The latter held off Richard Dryden to drive a deflected shot beneath the keeper's diving body.

The second half opened with Ekoku coming within a whisker of converting a cross by Robbie Earle, but after 73 minutes he atoned with a shot off the underside of the crossbar, having been generously set up by Matt Le Tissier's sloppy back-pass.

The Sporting Lisbon striker Paulo Alves, whom Southampton propose to sign for pounds 1m, was apparently at the game but Souness said: "I'm not sure whether he left at half-time."

Wimbledon (4-4-2): Sullivan; Cunningham, McAllister, Perry, Kimble; Ardley, Earle, Leonhardsen, Gayle (Blackwell, 81); Ekoku, Holdsworth (Clarke, 81). Substitutes not used: Harford, Fear, Heald (gk).

Southampton (3-4-1-2): Beasant; Monkou, Lundekvam, Dryden; Slater, Magilton (Oakley, 60), Neilson, Charlton; Le Tissier; Shipperley (Potter, 66), Watson (Maddison, 52). Substitutes not used: Watkinson, Moss (gk).

Referee: P Durkin (Portland).