Football: Dons make their point in red zone

Manchester United 1 Wimbledon 1
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The Independent Online
THEY DRIFTED away from Old Trafford disappointed with a mere draw, but relieved to have gained a point to sustain them between the two big cup games. Yes, Cardiff City at home in the second round of the Worthington Cup has got Wimbledon's Egil Olsen worried.

Whereas Manchester United's game-plan for the day had to be inextricably linked with their selection conundrum for the Champions' League visit to Sturm Graz on Wednesday, Wimbledon's tactical strategy was a triumph for their new manager. The treble-winners, resting David Beckham and Andy Cole and losing Ryan Giggs, may have been coming down to earth facing the zonally challenged Dons; the visitors may have been wanting the moon on a stick if they seriously anticipated winning at Old Trafford. But levels of expectation and exertion met somewhere in the middle to leave everyone with a just result.

Odds of 11-1 against Wimbledon winning a two-horse race reflected Olsen's pre-match expectation of defeat. But, while Sir Alex Ferguson juggles his playing squad in this "tricky part of jumping between games in the Premiership and Europe", Olsen got it just right on the day.

Walid Badir's first goal in English football, which he aimed confidently home after the enterprising Carl Cort had outwitted United's defence, allowed Wimbledon the right to defend in depth. This stifled the life out of Ferguson's lacklustre side, who only equalised after Cort and Badir had failed to capitalise from clear runs on goal.

United looked in danger of losing their first game in 28 Premiership outings as they lacked the tempo or, after Giggs' latest hamstring problem, the width to open up Wimbledon. Olsen placed 10 men between ball and goal every time United gained possession as, finally, his notorious zonal- marking system appeared to be coming together.

Chances were conceded, but Wimbledon's midfield blanket looked set to smother United's efforts. Then, with 16 minutes remaining, Jordi Cruyff, who may well play in Austria on Wednesday, received Dwight Yorke's pass from deep, played an incisive one-two with Paul Scholes, and skipped around Neil Sullivan to clip in his first goal for 11 months.

Once Jason Euell, sent completely clear in the final minute, had permitted Massimo Taibi to save at his feet, this result was at least assured of a place in the United programme's statistics page. The season's only defeats, albeit in the Charity Shield and the Super Cup, have been purged from the records. United's intolerance of failure is emblematic of their status these days.

Wimbledon have not won in 11 attempts against United, and only twice in their last 25 Premiership games, but disrupting the champion's run of six straight League wins can be taken as a point from which to build, in confidence and in tactical efficacy.

Now the teams must raise their games for the looming cup challenges after both drawing last week's openers in Zagreb and Cardiff. Ferguson accepts he will be without Giggs, but hopes Beckham (ankle) and Keane (knee) can play. Olsen said: "Cardiff, now they surprised me. That is what has surprised me most coming to this country, that you have such good teams in the lower divisions. Cardiff could be a real challenge." Like Old Trafford wasn't? "It could have been better, it could have been worse."

Goals: Badir 0-1 (17); Cruyff 1-1 (74).

Manchester United (4-4-2): Taibi; Irwin, Berg, Stam, Silvestre; Yorke, P. Neville, Scholes, Giggs (Cruyff, 30); Solskjaer (Cole, 68), Sheringham. Substitutes not used: Bosnich (gk), Wilson, Wallwork.

Wimbledon (4-5-1): Sullivan; Cunningham, Blackwell, Andersen, Thatcher; Cort (Jupp, 80), Badir, Roberts, Euell, Gayle; Hartson. Substitutes not used: Davis (gk), Kimble, Earle, Leaburn.

Referee: R. Harris (Oxford).

Man of the match: Cort.

Attendance: 55,189.