Football: Barton's touch of class

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The Independent Online
Crystal Palace. .0

Wimbledon. . . . 0

Attendance: 12,100

LITTLE WAS expected from this Selhurst Park derby, and precious little was delivered. And when the hurly-burly was done the protagonists settled down to make their excuses. 'Plenty of passion,' said Joe Kinnear, the Wimbledon manager, hopefully. 'A good draw away from home,' said Vinnie Jones divertingly. Alan Smith, the Crystal Palace manager, however, was a little more inclined to be frank about it: 'The least said the better.'

Smith explained that it was the worst match he had overseen this season, the 6-1 opening disaster to Liverpool included. 'You don't have to be Einstein to analyse these games,' he said, commenting his back-four and his two central midfielders, but leaving no one in any doubt about his disappointment with his two wingers and Chris Armstrong and Bruce Dyer up front.

But if this was not one for fans to tell their grandchildren about, memories will certainly linger of a quite magnificent performance from Warren Barton, the Wimbledon full-back. A sharp word from the referee in the opening exchanges sparked him into action and he then proceeded to stamp his authority on the match. The sheer territory he covered enabled him to perform his defensive duties to the letter and then link up with Marcus Gayle on the right wing to establish Wimbledon's most effective supply line to attack.

Palace could not match the pattern that the Barton-based Wimbledon thrived on and will be relieved when they can restore the wisdom and play-making abilities of Ray Wilkins. Nevertheless this game was theirs for the taking and, but for a pair of outstanding reaction saves from Hans Segers, they could have been celebrating their first Premiership victory.

Their initial opening was carved out by a heinously judged back-header from Jones which fell to Dyer in the penalty box and a snap-shot then sent Segers shooting down to his right. It was another 35 minutes before he was again forced to move so quickly, parrying a header from Richard Shaw and then looking up with relief as Dean Gordon hit the rebound against the post.

This was perhaps the key for Palace as the second half was almost all theirs. In the dying minutes Jones unleashed a shot that came close to delivering the goal that the game so badly needed.