Football: Earle finds eloquent answer

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The Independent Online
Everton. . .1

Wimbledon. .2

ON PREVIOUS form this season, the smart bet at Goodison Park last night was on extra time, penalties and a toss of the coin when both sides still failed to score. But, after one goal in four forgettable meetings in various competitions, Everton and Wimbledon wallowed in a positive orgy of goalscoring in their FA Cup third- round replay, with Wimbledon finally gaining revenge for being beaten in a Coca-Cola Cup replay by the same opponents.

It was no classic, but it had a certain grim fascination. The first 35 minutes, predictably, brought more collision than cohesion, with Wimbledon's Gary Elkins and Everton's John Ebbrell being booked for the worst examples of the general clumsiness.

Even without the suspended Vinnie Jones, it was as unattractive as football can get. Then, suddenly, riches beyond the imagination. Steve Cotterill hooked on a long clearance. John Fashanu, in winter uniform of gloves and legwarmers, found some elbow room and Jason Kearton could only push his shot into the corner of the net.

It was an effort you would have expected another of the game's suspended absentees, Neville Southall, to have stopped, but Kearton could not be blamed for Wimbledon's second, five minutes into the second half.

Predrag Radosavljevic - more conveniently known as Preki and Everton's one ideas man to this point - had just hit the post with a free-kick, but the visitors' response was immediate, Robbie Earle running into the heart of the defence, taking advantage of a deflection or two and hitting home a firm shot.

It was symptomatic of Everton's poverty that their only answer was to throw Dave Watson into the front line, but that desperate move produced a goal and a hectic finish. Peter Beardsley lost his marker on the byline and pulled the ball back, Stuart Barlow miskicking before Watson scored.

Radosavljevic and Beardsley had shots well saved, Beardsley a penalty appeal turned down, and Barlow a chip that curled wide, but Everton could not find an equaliser. All the rest of the season might offer them now is an undignified scramble against relegation with the likes of the already too familiar Wimbledon.

Everton: Kearton; Jackson, Ablett, Snodin (Warzycha, 37), Watson, Keown, Radosavljevic, Beardsley, Barlow, Kenny (Harper, 82), Ebbrell.

Wimbledon: Segers; Joseph, Elkins, Cotterill, Scales, Blackwell, Ardley, Earle, Fashanu, Sanchez, Clarke (Talboys, h/t). Substitute not used: Newhouse.

Referee: P Durkin (Portland).

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