Football: Dons determined to stay in high society

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The Independent Online
Wimbledon . . .2

Aston Villa . .3

THE only thing fashionable about Wimbledon is John Fashanu's wardrobe. Homeless, and by some clubs' standards almost fanless, their muscular approach to the game has won them few friends since their rise from hoi polloi. Even when they secured the FA Cup, the talk was of tunnel warfare and late challenges.

Rather than retreat into a 'no one likes us' introspection, the Dons have just shrugged their shoulders and soldiered on. It is the fashion to berate Wimbledon for having no class as a team, but they have valuable individuals: Fashanu, when fit, is an effective target man, Robbie Earle a growing midfield presence and, in Warren Barton, Joe Kinnear possesses one of the best full-backs around.

'He should be England's right- back,' the Wimbledon manager said of the B international. 'He's got pace, control and is always looking to go forward. The reason he's not playing for England is because he's at Wimbledon and we're not fashionable. Players become automatic for England when they leave here. Look at Keith Curle. He moved to Manchester City and suddenly he's in England's squad.'

Curle is not the only defender to leave for a sizeable sum: Terry Phelan, Andy Thorn and Eric Young all commanded good fees. Opposition managers say they hate travelling to the dreaded Dons, but many also bring their chequebooks.

Barton, an ever present this season, was a vital force last month when Wimbledon beat Liverpool (at Anfield) and Arsenal, and drew with Blackburn. On Saturday, against an Aston Villa side awash with self-belief, they dominated much of the second half with flowing football that belied their reputation. Despite being sponsored by the RAF, the ball spent a commendable amount of time on the ground.

Vinny Jones was also grounded, suspended, and it was while the video villain was settling into his seat that the Villans took charge. Steve Froggatt hared down the left and crossed for Dean Saunders to beat Hans Segers from close range. The Welshman then played a one- two with Ray Houghton before sliding the ball past Segers for his sixth goal in four games for Villa.

Wimbledon are rarely short of spirit. Paul Miller pulled one back in the 34th minute, and only a tumbling save by Nigel Spink denied Earle a second-half equaliser. But when a Dons' foray broke down in the 77th minute, the game was up. Dalian Atkinson seized on the ball deep in his own half; a pass to Saunders seemed inevitable but he had other ideas. He brushed aside Sanchez and dribbled past Scott Fitzgerald and Gary Elkins (twice) before arrogantly chipping Segers.

The other Atkinson, manager Ron, rejected title talk as tittle-tattle but those Brummies who took pre-season odds of 40-1 will be doing cartwheels. Sound at the back, where Shaun Teale was outstanding, Villa also boast a creative midfield, directed by the lively Houghton and Garry Parker, and two of Britain's best strikers.

Wimbledon were worth Andy Clarke's late reply and despite their lowly position, they should stay among the fashionable. If they can hold on to players like Barton.

Goals: Saunders (5) 0-1; Saunders (29) 0-2; Miller (34) 1-2; Atkinson (77) 1-3; Clarke (90) 2-3.

Wimbledon: Segers; Barton, Elkins, Miller, Scales, Fitzgerald, Ardley, Earle, Fashanu (Newhouse, 24), Sanchez, Clarke. Substitutes not used: Joseph, Sullivan (gk).

Aston Villa: Spink; Barrett, Staunton, Teale, McGrath, Richardson, Houghton, Parker, Saunders, Atkinson, Froggatt (Yorke, h-t). Substitutes not used: Small, Bosnich (gk).

Referee: S Lodge (Barnsley).