Football: Earle inspires rout of Blackburn: Wimbledon undermine the ambition of Premiership title chasers

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Wimbledon. . . . . . 4

Blackburn Rovers. . .1

It goes against the Wimbledon grain to grant favours to anyone, particularly Manchester United, but relief from the depression enveloping Old Trafford came last night with this surprising and ultimately comprehensive defeat of their only Premiership challengers.

A goal behind at half-time, Wimbledon dredged deep and turned the game upside down. Three goals came in seven minutes late on as Blackburn crumbled to their heaviest defeat of the season and their second in 17 games.

They remain three points adrift of United when they had hoped to draw level at Selhurst Park. The two heavyweights meet at Ewood Park on Saturday, by which time Manchester, assuming they see off Liverpool tonight, will be six points ahead.

It was hard to keep count as the second-best defence in all four divisions collapsed. Kenny Dalglish's team's confident pursuit of the leaders was wrecked by the champion wreckers, who love nothing better than to feast on broken dreams.

Blackburn's wheels have not quite come off but this was some spoke that Wimbledon threw in, just as Joe Kinnear had predicted beforehand. He promises the same treatment for United when they visit in two weeks' time.

There was nothing to suggest so dramatic a denouement when Blackburn held off Wimbledon's initial flurry to take a 14th minute lead.

Tim Sherwood bared his teeth in midfield to beat Vinnie Jones to the ball. His pass found a vigorous response from Jason Wilcox, who steered his shot inside the right-hand post for his third goal in four games.

Alan Shearer shot on the turn and only Dean Blackwell's head averted a second for Blackburn. Then David Batty shaped as if to score, but sent his attempt skidding across the face of the goal.

A 4-1 win? Maybe, for Blackburn. Certainly not for Wimbledon on the evidence thus far, but they lacked nothing in spirit and determination. Regrouping, they transferred the game to the other end of the field. Tim Flowers was grateful when Dean Holdsworth could not quite meet John Fashanu's cross, but he emphasised his quality when he turned away a stinging volley from Robbie Earle.

The warning signs for Rovers were writ large. Flowers, under duress, had trouble keeping hands on Earle's header. Four minutes into the half and Wimbledon finally drew level as Earle engineered a midfield break which Fashanu finished off for his 10th goal of the season.

Shearer, however, sent a reminder that, with him around, no cause is lost. Segers was forced to arch backwards to push over his header from Wilcox's centre.

Jones's long throw in the 75th minute wreaked confusion among the Rovers' defenders, as had every set-piece before it. When Henning Berg stuck out a boot, he diverted the ball into his own net.

Four minutes later Holdsworth made it 3-1 from a delivery from the left by Marcus Gayle. Three more minutes and there was Earle to volley the fourth. 'That was the Crazy Gang at their best,' Kinnear said.

Not surprisingly, Dalglish refused to veer from his time- honoured philosophy: 'From day one we have approached each game as it comes,' he said. 'It has worked for us so far and I don't see any reason to change.'

All in all, sensational stuff which had an ugly conclusion when Shearer clashed with John Scales and a fracas developed. Eventually they all parted, Wimbledon with broad smiles and Blackburn downcast with their dream clouded.

Wimbledon (4-4-2): Segers; Barton, Scales, Blackwell, Elkins; Fear, Jones, Earle, Gayle; Holdsworth, Fashanu. Substitutes not used: Perry, Blissett, Sullivan (gk).

Blackburn Rovers (4-4-2): Flowers; Berg, May, Moran (Warhurst, 81), Le Saux; Ripley, Batty, Sherwood, Wilcox; Shearer, Newell. Substitutes not used: Marker, Mimms (gk).

Referee: J Lloyd (Wrexham).