Football: Earle eager to avoid repeats

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ROBBIE EARLE insisted Wimbledon will not make the same mistake twice after claiming their place in the Worthington Cup semi-finals. The Dons' 2-1 victory over the holders, Chelsea, on Tuesday shattered their London rivals' 19-match unbeaten run and left them just one tie away from Wembley.

It is a situation that Joe Kinnear's side have found themselves in twice before in recent seasons, including an unfortunate loss to the eventual winners, Leicester City, in the Coca-Cola Cup in 1997. Then Wimbledon appeared to have done the hard work as they earned a 0-0 draw at Filbert Street in the first leg of the semi-final only to lose out in the return match at Selhurst Park.

Earle, who opened the scoring on Tuesday, is determined to ensure history does not repeat itself when the semi-finals are played in January, as Wimbledon seek a first Wembley final since their FA Cup triumph over Liverpool in 1988.

"It's important having learnt lessons from last time that we're positive in the first leg," said Earle, who has also seen the Dons beaten 3-0 in the FA Cup last four by Chelsea.

"I think we went up to Leicester and tried to nullify the game and got a 0-0 draw that some people thought was a good result. But in effect that worked against us. Leicester came down and got an away goal and that put us under a lot of pressure.

"I think we have to treat each game as a knock-out, go there and try and win the game and that takes the pressure off the second leg. We've been there a couple of years ago and probably didn't do ourselves justice home and away. It's nice to get another chance.

"Some of the bigger teams have been taking it lightly but for a club like Wimbledon it's a great competition and gives us a great opportunity to play at Wembley.

"We showed what determination means and what it means for the players to get there and for Joe Kinnear, who has done brilliant things over eight years and never quite made a final. It would be magic for Joe to walk out with Wimbledon at Wembley and we'll enjoy the day if we get there."

There have been few changes in personnel since the previous semi-final defeats as Wimbledon struggle to keep pace in the transfer market. What they do possess, however, is more experience throughout a relatively young squad and Earle believes that will stand them in good stead in the last four. "I think we've got more experience now. A lot of the players have been through that [losing semi-finals]," he said.

"We've got to remember that a lot of these players are home grown and were 21-22 at that stage. They're now 24-25, they've got 150 League games under their belt and they've got better mental strength going into the competition.

"And I think on Tuesday we had a bit more physical presence with the likes of Marcus Gayle and Carl Leaburn up front, and that is a threat to teams. We wanted to do ourselves justice against Chelsea."