Sheffield Wednesday. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .2
BOTH Mark Bright and Gordon Watson know their way around Selhurst Park having plied their trade there for Crystal Palace and Charlton. Last night they chose old haunts to send Sheffield Wednesday into the Coca-Cola Cup semi- finals for the second year in succession.
Moreover, it is the club's third such semi-final in four years. Last year they also reached the FA Cup final. They are threatening Arsenal's mantle as the cup invincibles and not only in terms of results. Having been hauled back to parity by a Wimbledon side in full flow, they dredged up sufficient spirit to take the lead again. Like the Gunners they do a natty line in crucial, late goals.
Both efforts last night were magnificent examples from strikers at the top of their game and in the kind of mood where they believe everything they hit will turn to gold.
Watson, a pounds 250,000 addition to a side rich in million-pound talent, has had to earn his place because initially Trevor Francis looked elsewhere for replacements when David Hirst succumbed to another injury. In all, the Wednesday manager counted six of his first-choice side absent and it is further credit to his squad that they can conjure a result like this.
'Our determination won us the day,' he said. 'We now have a team for all seasons, one that can defend as well as play.'
With six goals in nine games since his introduction in November, Watson had convinced Francis of his merits and after an opening half of little quality, save for a magnificent Kevin Pressman stop from Dean Holdsworth, he was to add to those statistics. Both Bright and Scott Fitzgerald missed the ball but in a flash Watson was away and buried a bullet of a drive into the far corner.
By then Wimbledon should have been ahead. John Fashanu, sent through by Holdsworth, allowed Andy Pearce to recover as he sized up the opportunity. A long throw from Vinnie Jones had Simon Coleman scurrying to clear off the line.
It was their first appearance at this stage and they did not want to spoil their lines. For half an hour after Watson's strike everything went in Pressman's direction. He held firm, survived a couple of penalty shouts and then beat superbly away Gary Blissett's volley immediately after his introduction as a substitute.
There was no respite and from the corner the ball evaded several pairs of feet and ended with Holdsworth pushing it over the line. That is nine goals for him now in nine but it was destined not to be his or Wimbledon's night.
'With all their pressure I was convinced Wimbledon would score and when it came I thought we were in for a tough last 15 minutes,' Francis said. Only six as it turned out as Bright first won the header from Pressman's long free-kick and then dispatched an exquisite volley beyond Hans Segers.
'It was a marvellous strike but I've seen him do that every day in training,' Francis added. 'Mark has such a tremendous attitude to the game that he always stays around for extra shooting practice.'
It also supplied the statisticians with yet more material. It meant he has scored in each of the last seven games and for the sixth tie in succession it was a goal in the last 10 minutes that came to Wednesday's rescue.
Joe Kinnear, the Wimbledon manager, was bitterly disappointed. 'We are all shell-shocked,' he said. 'I thought the lads were magnificent. They could not have given us more. If we had taken more chances that would have taken the pressure off us. We missed enough to win the game. Their goalkeeper had one of those nights.
'Their first goal was a cock-up by our defence. Scott Fitzgerald took his eye off the ball and it went under his foot. We fought like hell to get back and we did that. Mark Bright will never score another goal like that in his life - but he had to do it against us.'
Wimbledon (4-4-2): Segers; Barton, Fitzgerald, Scales, Elkins; Ardley, V Jones, Earle, Clarke (Blissett, 73); Holdsworth, Fashanu. Substitutes not used: Sullivan (gk), Blackwell.
Sheffield Wednesday (4-4-2): Pressman; Coleman, Palmer, Pearce, B Linighan; R Jones, Walker, Hyde, Sinton; Bright, Watson. Substitutes not used: Woods (gk), Poric, Bart-Williams.
Referee: P Alcock (Redhill).
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