Everton are put to sleep

Wimbledon 4 Ardley 33, Gayle 46, Earle 59, Ekoku 73 Everton 0 Attendance: 13,684
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The Independent Online
Elevating Everton to the realms of potential champions even before the season had rubbed the sleep from its eyes was obviously a little premature. Their humiliation at Selhurst Park yesterday was begun with what was, admittedly, a freak free-kick from Wimbledon's Neal Ardley, who had a hand in all four goals, but ended with such a comprehensive defeat that even their manager, Joe Royle, had to say it was "an embarrassingly poor performance".

Earlier in the week Wimbledon had won against a Spurs team that was below strength but, come the end of the season, should be among the top half-dozen. And that is the way Wimbledon usually survive, by unexpected stealth, not by overwhelming victories. They achieved that yesterday even without the unsettled Dean Holdsworth.

Vinnie Jones behaved impeccably and was inspiring. He was always pressing forward from midfield and preserved Wimbledon from the potential danger of Everton taking advantage of their early threat, Andrei Kanchelskis, whose right-wing pace slowly subsided.

After Everton were rightly aggrieved at having a reasonable penalty appeal rejected when Chris Perry brought down Duncan Ferguson, they lost their drive and soon suffered a goal almost as extraordinary as the one David Beckham had scored for Manchester United on a recent visit to this same ground.

It came after 32 minutes when a free-kick, given almost 40 yards out and only 10 from the touch-line, was amazingly curled in by Ardley, low past a bemused and let-down Neville Southall, who had watched most of his defenders allow themselves to be drawn across the penalty area by decoy Wimbledon forwards.

Southall had every right to expect that someone would block the bouncing shot. None did and the ball drifted inside his far post. But if he could feel upset about that, he had to take his share of the blame when two minutes into the second half he allowed Marcus Gayle to encroach on his goalmouth preserve and flick a header past him from Ardley's corner. Jones's presence in the Everton penalty area had a lot to do with their defensive disarray which continued when another corner, again by Ardley, was totally misread not only by Southall but, again, all the other defenders. Robbie Earle headed down and under Southall's falling body for a third goal.

Everton did not contribute a single threatening shot in over an hour so could hardly complain when Ardley sent Efan Ekoku away to slot a shot easily past Southall.