Football: Ardley keeps crazy dream alive

Huddersfield 0 Wimbledon 1 Ardley 62 Attendance: 14,533
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The Independent Online
WIMBLEDON may or may not be wombling towards the Emerald Isle. That depends on the skill of Jean-Louis Duport, the man hired by Sam Hammam to fight in the European courts for their right to become Premiership Dubliners. In the meantime, the Dons are heading towards Wembley again.

Ten years after their finest hour and a half, their victory against Liverpool in the 1988 final, the South Londoners moved a step closer to the FA Cup final with a fourth-round victory at the McAlpine Stadium yesterday.

They did so, it must be said, in less than assured fashion. Composure was at a premium in a tie that threatened to be classic only in the slapstick, comic sense.

But the one flash of sure-footed play in front of goal came, decisively, from one of Joe Kinnear's players. Neal Ardley, who became a schoolboy Don two months before the 1988 final, struck as the home defence dithered, firing a right-foot shot past the despairing clutches of Steve Harper from the edge of the area in the 62nd minute. It proved sufficient to overcome not just a Huddersfield team that failed to rise to the occasion but the handicap of going two down in the opening eight minutes.

Considering the rueful look on Kinnear's face, it was difficult to judge whether he would have preferred to lose goals than men after first Robbie Earle and then Ceri Hughes made enforced departures.

It took the reshuffled Wimbledon 20 minutes to settle, but they would have taken the lead on the half-hour mark had Harper not launched into an acrobatic diving save to keep out a goalbound downward header by Marcus Gayle.

Newcastle United's fourth choice goalkeeper, on loan to Huddersfield until the end of the season, cites Alan Shearer (in training) as his most difficult opponent and the benefits of firing squad practice with the pounds 15m man were clear for all the 14,533 spectators to see.

Harper made another blinding save to keep out a Carl Cort shot, but could do little when Ardley despatched his bolt from the blue. A minute later, the boys in blue and white were screaming for a penalty when Wayne Allison blasted a shot that struck the hands Dean Blackwell raised to protect his face.

There seemed little question of intent but that did not spare David Elleray from the wrath of the outraged natives. In truth, Huddersfield's best chance slipped through their own hands, metaphorically at least. Allison, unmarked on the right edge of the six-yard box 10 minutes before half- time, sliced hopelessly wide with the goal - and the Dons - at his mercy.

"They can say what they like about the handball incident," Kinnear said. "Dean just couldn't get out of the way. We're in the hat. That's all that matters. If Stevenage get through, hopefully we'll get them in the next round."