Football: Dons' uncouth underdogs adopting look of purer breed

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FOR once, John Fashanu, enthusiastic television performer, did not want the cameras trained on him. Joe Kinnear said it had been a 'difficult few days' under the spotlight for his captain since the collision which sent Gary Mabbutt to hospital. One wondered how difficult a few days it had been for Mabbutt.

Wimbledon FC, home of Sam Hammam and the Crazy Gang, thrive on conspiracy theories, some legitimate, some funny, some simply farcical. Kinnear, in a discussion on Saturday of the White Hart Lane incident, proffered a serious point when he pondered whether there would have been a similar 'fuss' surrounding Mabbutt's fractured eye socket if Fashanu wore another club's colours.

The problem with Kinnear's premise is that Wimbledon relish - and, to a degree, encourage - their reputation as the Premiership's uncouth underdogs, as it breeds a formidable team spirit which suffuses every performance.

The Millwall-esque 'no one likes us' belief - fostered further by the 'Fash The Bash' coverage since his elbow made contact with Mabbutt's face - harbours an element of irony, given that Kinnear's Dons were beginning to earn plaudits for varying their approach work.

Any club with Scales, Earle, Holdsworth and Barton on their books can assemble a side capable of playing watchable football. Why Wimbledon are considered increasingly awkward opposition is that an unexpected quota of deftness has been allied to the directness.

This trend was confirmed by Greg Berry's equaliser of Stuart Barlow's excellent first-half header for a fluid Everton. Hans Segers, moving so far out of his box he was in danger of being caught offside, thumped the ball David Seaman- style, long into his counterpart's goalmouth. A flick from Warren Barton and Dean Holdsworth quickly had the ball at his feet. With his back to goal, the centre- forward dummied Gary Ablett, swivelled and dribbled towards the byline. His low shot deceived Neville Southall and Berry followed up to score. An incisive combination of the long and short.

Holdsworth's control and Andy Clarke's dribbling further refute the 'mixer' mentality, but the long ball is still a significant, if not the solitary, weapon in Wimbledon's armoury, as the second-half peppering of Southall's box indicated.

For Fashanu, high balls drop like the proverbial celestial manna and an element of Kinnear's concern over the Mabbutt case is whether it would emasculate one of his strikers' most important assets. A forward who worries each time he jumps is of no use to the Dons, but Kinnear will know that Fashanu's muted display against Everton's solid centre-halves, Ablett and Dave Watson, stemmed simply from a desire not to put a foot - or elbow - wrong on this occasion.

The man himself promised to be more his usual self in the future. 'I shall play the same way as I have for the past 13 to 14 years because I have done nothing wrong,' he said.

'Fash's fine now,' Kinnear joked. 'He's downstairs doing 14 TV shows.' While a friend and fellow pro is in casualty.

Goals: Barlow (32) 0-1; Berry (48) 1-1.

Wimbledon (4-4-2): Segers; Barton, Scales, Joseph, Ardley; Talboys (Fitzgerald, h/t), Jones, Earle, Berry (Clarke, 79); Fashanu, Holdsworth. Substitute not used: Sullivan (gk).

Everton (4-4-2): Southall; Jackson, Watson, Ablett, Hinchcliffe; Ward, Snodin, Horne (Radosavljevic, 76), Ebbrell; Cottee, Barlow (Stuart, 81). Substitute not used: Kearton (gk).

Referee: M Reed (Birmingham).