Football: Bolton overpowered by Wimbledon's raw pace

Bolton Wanderers 0 Wimbledon 2
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The Independent Online
Bolton's killer instincts when confronted by capital city clubs, which had already claimed the scalps of Chelsea and Spurs in the Coca-Cola Cup this season, failed them last night as Wimbledon advanced into the semi- finals.

While the Wanderers have been lethal opposition for Premiership sides unwilling or unable to match them for enthusiasm, they found the Dons, as they always suspected they might, far less compliant.

The feeling that they were not the sort of haughty opponents the Wanderers specialise in embarrassing crystallised into a certainty within the first few minutes.

Although there is far more to their game now than the long ball and their formidable aerial power, there are times when Route One still serves Joe Kinnear's men well. The game was only seconds old when Efan Ekoku's leap and knock-down set up Neal Ardley for a shot which was wasted by being directed straight at Gavin Ward.

There was to be no escape the next time the Dons bombarded an earthbound Bolton defence. Ekoku's equally agile striking partner, Marcus Gayle, did the initial damage this time, rising to win Neil Sullivan's long free- kick and Ekoku was on the spot to lash his shot past Ward.

Gayle's sheer power in the air presented Ardley with another splendid opportunity, but this time he missed the target altogether and Bolton, completely against the run of play, could have fluked their way back into the match when the hardworking Nathan Blake's cross eluded everyone and hit the foot of the post.

After 21 minutes, though, came a second Wimbledon goal that showed they could be just as adept on the ground as in the air. Ekoku displayed the peripheral vision that is another important part of his strength as a player by finding the endlessly mobile and dangerous Oyvind Leonhardsen.

He did not appear in a particularly threatening position on the left fringe of the Wanderers penalty area, until his gloriously struck shot curled past Ward's left hand and into the top corner of the net.

Despite losing John McGinlay - so often the match-winner in circumstances like these - with a calf strain Bolton did far better and looked much more like their old, marauding selves in the second half.

Scott Green, normally a right-back, proved a willing replacement for the Scot and there were moments, especially in conjunction with the wing play of another Bolton talisman, David Lee, when he promised to produce the goal that would have revived hopes of reaching the last four of the competition that took them to Wembley two years ago.

Green had one header blocked by Leonhardsen and another turned around the post by Sullivan. Another ball which he won fell for Per Frandsen, whose shot skewed wide of the goal.

For the most part, though, the Wimbledon defence remained firmly and unflappably in control, with Chris Perry particularly assured at its heart.

Bolton were always literally in with a shout while their highly vocal coach, Phil Brown, was bellowing from his touchline seat. But when Gerald Ashby, not content with booking five players, dismissed Brown from the sideline it was a symbolic moment. By Bolton's rousing standards in recent cup competitions, this was a quiet night.

"When you concede a goal after three minutes against a side which is as good at shutting teams out as Wimbledon it's very difficult," said the Wanderers manager, Colin Todd.

Bolton Wanderers (4-4-2): Ward; Todd, Fairclough, Taggart, Small; Lee, Sheridan (Pollock, 76), Frandsen, Sellars; McGinlay (Green, 38), Blake. Substitute not used: Branagan (gk).

Wimbledon (4-4-2): Sullivan; Cunningham, Blackwell, Perry, Kimble; Ardley, Jones, Earle, Leonhardsen (McAllister, 87); Ekoku (Clarke, 87), Gayle (Harford, 80).

Referee: G Ashby (Worcester).