Earle rewards Wimbledon's bold approach: Football

Sheffield Wednesday 0 Wimbledon 2
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The Independent Online
Even David Pleat, the Sheffield Wednesday manager, described the rise and rise of Wimbledon as a fairy-tale and reality looks no nearer intruding on it. They are now banging on the door of Wembley in two competitions.

Robbie Earle and Dean Holdsworth ensured they reached the last four of the FA Cup at Hillsborough yesterday and with a Coca-Cola Cup semi-final against Leicester City tomorrow night a glorious climax to the season is beckoning.

"We were looking a bit tired at the end," Joe Kinnear, the Wimbledon manager, said. "The games are coming thick and fast at the moment. We took a bit of a gamble, I told the boys: `Let's go attack them on their own ground', and we did. I think we deserved it."

They did. Indeed if Wimbledon had left for London with a lesser result they would have only themselves to blame as they created numerous chances before Wednesday had a serious attempt at goal. It made for a nervy final quarter and Hillsborough will be rueing the misses by Andy Booth and Guy Whittingham.

Wimbledon were contemplating their squandered opportunities long before then. Twice in the initial 20 minutes Efan Ekoku's rangy gallop put him clear on the right flank. His first effort was blocked by Kevin Pressman, with the second the attack fizzled out as his attempt at a lob dropped lamely into the Wednesday's goalkeeper's midriff.

The home team,were hamstrung by injuries to Jon Newsome and Graham Hyde, who will both be out for the rest of the season with ankle injuries. "It was Sunday bloody Sunday for us," was Pleat's description.

Ironically, David Hirst's introduction proved the focal point for a revival that might have snatched the tie. After 67 minutes he burst down the right before passing to Booth, who seemingly had the goal at his mercy. This proved an illusion as his shot was pulled wide, an identical outcome when Whittingham was also put clear by Hirst and Benito Carbone's work.

As Wednesday sensed victory, the tie was snatched from them with a goal that was beautifully executed. Ekoku's quick feet gave Neal Ardley space on the right and when his cross reached Marcus Gayle, the striker hooked the ball over his head to the rapidly advancing Earle. Where the home players had dithered, he was gloriously decisive, crashing the ball into the roof of the net.

Wednesday laboured after an equaliser but in injury time they suffered again. Ian Nolan miscued a pass, Oyvind Leonhardsen was on to it in a flash and his square ball allowed Holdsworth to sidefoot past Pressman.

Sheffield Wednesday (4-4-2): Pressman; Nicol, Newsome (Humphreys, 13), Walker, Nolan; Hyde (Hirst, 36), Atherton, Pembridge, Carbone; Whittingham, Booth. Substitute not used: Clarke (gk).

Wimbledon (4-4-2): Sullivan; Cunningham, Perry, Blackwell, Kimble; Ardley, Jones, Earle, Leonhardsen; Ekoku (Holdsworth, 86), Gayle (McAllister, 86). Substitute not used: Heald (gk).

Bookings: Wimbledon: Jones.

Referee: R Dilkes (Mossley).

Man of the match: Leonhardsen.

Attendance: 25,032.