Blues turn grey

Wimbledon 1 Clarke 37 og Chelsea 1 Furlong 35 Attendance: 17,048
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The Independent Online
THOSE bookmakers who have installed Chelsea as third favourites for the FA Cup may have to revise their odds before these teams meet again in a quarter final tie at Stamford Bridge next Saturday. For, despite a draw that did little for their relegation worries, Wimbledon thoroughly unsettled Chelsea for the second time this season.

They might well have completed the double here yesterday, as they regularly unstitched a Chelsea defence with Steve Clarke at its centre seeming completely ill at ease, a fact exemplified by his own-goal. Wimbledon's threat came not just from the usual array of set pieces but also from the incisive runs of Robbie Earle and Oyvind Leonhardsen from midfield.

Wimbledon enjoyed much the better of the first half, creating at least four good scoring chances before Chelsea even stirred. Efan Ekoku had a header and a close-range shot well saved by Kevin Hitchcock, while Dean Blackwell flashed a shot just wide and Leonhardsen's volley forced Hitchcock to punch clear.

So it was completely against the grain of play when Paul Furlong headed Chelsea in front from Dennis Wise's free-kick after 35 minutes. The lead was very nearly doubled as Ruud Gullit joyfully sped past Vinnie Jones, but Mark Hughes's goalbound shot was blocked.

Wimbledon instantly fed on the escape, breaking speedily before Marcus Gayle's low cross forced Clarke to turn the ball past his own keeper. Having been the victims of two own goals last Saturday, this was sweet justice for the Dons.

True, Dennis Wise fluffed an easy chance before the interval but Wimbledon's successful disruption of Chelsea's pass-and-move game suggested they had the edge. A key part of their dominance had been their ability to prevent the incursions of Dan Petrescu and Terry Phelan down the flanks.

However, Petrescu wormed his way back into the game in the second half, and might well have scored, shooting wide twice when well placed, and forcing Neil Sullivan into a flying save with a shot from 25 yards.

Wimbledon nevertheless retained the ability to give Hitchcock vertigo, Earle's header being blocked by his own player. Meanwhile Vinnie Jones, the epitome of diplomacy yesterday, is surely saving up something nastier than an abusive newspaper column for the Blues in a week's time.

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