Football: Dons douse Hammers' early joy

West Ham United 3 Wimbledon 4
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GOALS WERE promised and goals were duly delivered. However, the strike force in the ascendancy at Upton Park last night was not the much- heralded pairing of John Hartson and Ian Wright, but the irresistible and largely unsung buccaneering front-men from Wimbledon.

The home side, three goals ahead and apparently cruising to victory, were rudely halted in their tracks. Two goals from Marcus Gayle and a strike apiece from Jason Euell and the substitute Efan Ekoku completed a remarkble recovery and cancelled Wright's celebratory home debut.

"A game of three halves," said a grinning Joe Kinnear after pocketing the three points, and seeing his side climb to fourth place in the Premiership. He acknowledged that it is still too soon to form judgements, but woe betide any team who underestimate the Dons this season.

West Ham could have been forgiven for doing so last night as they galloped to a three-goal lead. The first came after a mere six minutes, when Trevor Sinclair ran from deep on the right, speeding past a Wimbledon defence that was slow to retreat.

Sinclair's arcing cross found Wright - captain for the night - at the far post. The former Arsenal striker flicked the ball neatly to his old Highbury sparring partner and Hartson responded by ramming the ball home.

There was no respite for Wimbledon, only another helping of woe. Stan Lazaridis collected the ball and made the first of many forays on the left. Outwitting Chris Perry, he centred into a crowded penalty area where the ball fell to Hartson. His shot was parried only as far as Wright, who joyously drove the ball home amid the flailing legs.

Twelve minutes gone, and West Ham were charging. They continued to work intelligently through the midfield and on 26 minutes were rewarded with another goal. Lazaridis, again, completed an insidious run with a pinpoint cross that was met with an unerring volley by Wright. That made it three.

But Wimbledon were far from flustered and, after good work by the irrepressible Michael Hughes, Alan Kimble crossed from the left to Gayle, whose looping header drifted over the outstretched hand of the West Ham goalkeeper, Shaka Hislop.

A scintillating first half would be a tough act to follow but Wimbledon duly delivered. The visitors bombarded West Ham's goal with an unrelenting succession of high balls. On 66 minutes they were rewarded when Javier Margas dithered and allowed Euell to slam the ball into the net.

Eleven minutes later it was Gayle who scrambled the ball past Hislop and, incredibly, it was level.

Then came the timely arrival of the substitute Ekoku - who is seeking an exit from Wimbledon - into the melee. He drifted unnoticed into space behind the West Ham defence and Wimbledon's recovery was complete. And Upton Park fell silent.

Afterwards, a crestfallen Harry Redknapp was clearly disappointed with his defenders' performance. "We just couldn't handle the bombardment," he sighed.

West Ham United (3-4-1-2): Hislop; Pearce, Ruddock, Margas; Sinclair, Lampard, Moncur, Lazaridis; Berkovic (Impey, 47); Wright, Hartson. Substitutes not used: Forrest (gk), Keller, Potts, Abou.

Wimbledon (4-4-2): Sullivan; Jupp, Perry, Cunningham, Kimble; Euell, Roberts, M Hughes, Earle (Ekoku, 72); Leaburn, Gayle. Substitutes not used: Heald (gk), McAllister, Kennedy, Fear.

Referee: G Barber (Tring).