Football / Coca-Cola Cup: Earle earns a second chance

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The Independent Online
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THE MUCH maligned journeymen of Wimbledon evoked memories of another famous confrontation with Liverpool to force a wholly deserved replay in this Coca-Cola Cup fourth-round tie.

Undismayed by dubious and potentially decisive decisions against them, as well as a catalogue of squandered chances, they retained their belief that they could outplay Liverpool at Anfield and create an equaliser. Their reward came just six minutes from the end, Robbie Earle at last diverting a header past Bruce Grobbelaar. Liverpool were jeered to the sanctuary of the dressing-room; the cheers, from all sides, were for Wimbledon.

It seemed Wimbledon, winners of the only previous Cup meeting between these two clubs, the 1988 FA Cup final, would depart empty- handed this time. They went behind after 15 minutes to a disputed penalty, converted by Jan Molby, and were denied an equaliser eight minutes later when the referee, Roger Dilkes, decided that John Fashanu had fouled Grobbelaar before bundling the ball over the line. Fashanu's disbelief was shared by most impartial observers.

The Crazy Gang, however, are rather more balanced these days, in mind and on the ball. Their response was to take on Liverpool at their own passing game and the first-half vulnerability of the home defence sustained that optimism.

Mark Wright alone recovered his composure in the second half, repelling the bombardment in the air and on the ground, yet even he could not contain Wimbledon all night. Liverpool held out for so long through sheer good fortune, they had not mustered another genuine attempt on goal after that penalty and their game had disintegrated. Yet here they were, on the verge of victory when really, Earle and Andy Clarke, a 47th-minute substitute for the injured Fashanu, ought to have secured a quarter-final place before Earle's eventual equaliser arrived.

Joe Kinnear, Wimbledon's manager, said: 'It would have been an injustice if we'd lost that one. The ref didn't do us any favours but we kept playing and in the second half we dominated it. We could have won it. It's not often you get a standing ovation from the Kop. We've found that you've got to come here in a positive frame of mind, you've got to be brave and enjoy the occasion. I'd say we've got a realistic chance now of getting through to the next round.'

His opposite number, Graeme Souness, was puzzled as to how his side could beat Aston Villa and then subside so miserably against Wimbledon three days later. He said: 'That's what I can't understand. I can't explain it to the fans. We were very disappointing and I am dumbfounded. But we're still in the competition. We'll have to do better than that to progress though.'

Liverpool (4-4-2): Grobbelaar; R Jones, Wright, Ruddock, Harkness; Redknapp, Molby, Matteo, Barnes (Walters, 77); Fowler, Rush. Substitutes not used: Clough, James (gk).

Wimbledon (4-4-2): Segers; Joseph, Scales, Fitzgerald, McAllister; Barton, Earle, V Jones, Ardley; Fashanu (Clarke, 47), Holdsworth. Substitutes not used: Talboys, Digweed (gk).

Referee: R Dilkes (Mossley).