Football: Asprilla lights up a gloomy encounter

Wimbledon 1 Newcastle United 1
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A moment of Colombian brilliance was enough to ensure that Newcastle avoided defeat at Selhurst Park yesterday and also provide a vivid contrast to much of the action that surrounded it. Faustino Asprilla's venomously flighted free-kick was a rare triumph of pure skill on a day when most of the virtues on display were of the muscular variety.

A bumpy pitch was only a partial excuse for a tired match that neither side deserved to win. Two months ago both sides entertained championship aspirations. These have long since faded - though Kenny Dalglish, the Newcastle manager, still claimed to have an interest in the title afterwards - but neither will be happy to have dropped two more points in the chase for Uefa Cup places.

For Wimbledon, whose challenge for the title was the story of the first half of the season, the slump in league form has become a particular concern.

Side-tracked by their Cup endeavours, their last Premiership home win was back in mid-December, and they now boast just one victory in their last 11 league games.

Newcastle, too, have had their disappointments of late and defeat in Europe last week means they will go through another season without winning a trophy.

After the retreat from Monaco came the financial reckoning. On Friday Newcastle priced its forthcoming share issue so as to value the club at pounds 193m, an estimate which the City appears ready to endorse. Newcastle may have gone out of the Uefa Cup, but clearly they did not break the bank in Monte Carlo.

Unfortunately for them pounds 21m worth of their investments remained unavailable for selection, with Alan Shearer and Les Ferdinand still injured. Dalglish did make changes, though, not for the first time responding to a defeat by dropping Peter Beardsley. To the surprise of some David Ginola retained his place, despite cementing his disaffection with Tyneside by handing in a written transfer request on Friday.

Ginola's performance was a cameo of his recent history in a Newcastle shirt: full of back heels, feints and Gallic shrugs, not to mention a series of heated exchanges with Asprilla, presumably as to who was supposed to play dilettante.

Ginola did bring a terrible game to life, however, when a nicely flighted chip in the 25th minute forced Neil Sullivan to touch the ball over, though bizarrely Mr Lodge awarded a goal kick.

Wimbledon have their own foreigner, one with a slightly more developed sense of import duties, and three minutes later Oyvind Leonhardsen gave them the lead. Newcastle laboured to clear Alan Kimble's free-kick, and Rob Lee was dispossessed on the left-hand edge of the penalty area by Mick Harford. The ball fell to the Norwegian, who drove his shot across Shaka Hislop.

The start of the second half saw a marked improvement - it could hardly have got worse - and after eight minutes Newcastle were level. Drifting in from the left Ginola was felled by Chris Perry's one poor tackle of the 90 minutes just outside the box on the left-hand side.

A posse of potential marksmen lined up behind the resulting free-kick but it was Asprilla who struck a dipping curler into the far corner.

The home side responded with characteristic robustness and six minutes later nearly retook the lead. Efan Ekoku, a persistent threat down the right, span past Robbie Elliott and David Batty and his centre was met by Robbie Earle's firm header. It seemed a certain goal, only for Darren Peacock to acrobatically clear the ball off the line. "The last three games we had six kicked off the line," a lugubrious Joe Kinnear, the Wimbledon manager, said.

Newcastle saw plenty of the ball in the closing stages without creating a clear-cut chance. The nearest we came to a winner was with 20 minutes left when Dean Holdsworth, released by the tireless Leonhardsen, sent in a rasping drive from the right-hand corner of the penalty area which was well saved by Hislop.

Kinnear bemoaned the dropping of the points but pronounced himself happy with his side's performance. "It's an indication of how far we've travelled that we are disappointed that we haven't turned Newcastle over," he said.

Goals: Leonhardsen (28) 1-0; Asprilla (53) 1-1.

Wimbledon (4-3-3): Sullivan; Cunningham, Perry, Blackwell, Kimble; Fear, Earle, Leonhardsen; Ekoku, Harford (Holdsworth, 63), Gayle. Substitutes not used: Heald (gk), Goodman, McAllister, Ardley.

Newcastle United (4-1-4-1): Hislop; Watson, Peacock, Albert, Elliott; Batty; Gillespie, Barton, Lee Ginola; Asprilla. Substitutes not used: Srnicek (gk), Beresford, Beardsley, Crawford, Clark.

Referee: S Lodge (Barnsley). Bookings: Wimbledon Cunningham, Fear; Newcastle Ginola.

Man of the match: Leonhardsen. Attendance: 23,175.