Football: Earle's a stinger for Dons

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The Independent Online
Wimbledon 2

Gayle 44, Earle 55

QPR 1

Hateley 41

Attendance: 22,395

The inspiration which Wimbledon drew on to beat Manchester United in the last round was still in plentiful supply yesterday as their remarkable season hit yet another new high. Coming from a goal down to see of the full-blooded challenge of a Queen's Park Rangers side who contributed hugely to a stirring fifth-round tie, Wimbledon booked themselves a place in the quarter-finals for the first time since 1989. It will take a lot to stop them now.

QPR were in the last eight as recently as two years ago, losing 2-0 at Manchester United, and the prospect of matching that run drew what the club estimated was their biggest travelling support for 20 years - around 12,000 fans, or nearly half Selhurst Park's capacity.

Their team made a sprightly start, looking to unsettle Wimbledon with short, quick passing and movement off the ball, and Trevor Sinclair made a couple of darting runs down the right that came to nothing. The Wimbledon juggernaut then began to move through the gears, and in the 12th minute a header by Robbie Earle from a Vinnie Jones cross required Jurgen Sommer to stretch to his left to make the save.

QPR should still have taken the lead after 20 minutes following a beautifully executed move that began with a ball up to Mark Hateley wide on the halfway line. Hateley turned it into the path of Gavin Peacock, who advanced on the Wimbledon area and slipped a pass to the overlapping Paul Murray. The chance begged for the promising young midfielder who made his England under-21 debut in midweek, but although there was not much wrong with his low shot, Neil Sullivan saved superbly.

Moments of such fluency were rare as Wimbledon peppered the QPR goalmouth with crosses. But QPR, playing on the break, remained dangerous, and four minutes before half-time Hateley soared to head in Peacock's cross. The lead lasted barely a minute. Marcus Gayle's overhead shot smashed against the crossbar and after Sommer scrambled the ball away for a corner, Gayle's backheader looped into the far corner.

The match had taken a while to get going, but now an element of the frantic entered proceedings as the second half unfolded with attacks at both ends. The pace and the commitment were ferocious. In the 55th minute, Wimbledon struck again - a magnificent goal which owed much to Oyvind Leonhardsen's quick thinking in delaying a defence-splitting pass forward to Earle while players came back from offside positions. Earle, just outside the box, beat Sommer with a shot into the top left-hand corner.

Leonhardsen hit the post before Sullivan and Kenny Cunningham came to Wimbledon's rescue as QPR poured forward. But it was Wimbledon's day. How many more are they going to have?

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