A PAIR of 21-year-old forwards led the Wimbledon line together for the first time at Selhurst Park yesterday. Considering last week's events at Wembley it was tempting to ask the manager, Joe Kinnear, why he had been hanging about and if he genuinely thought there was any future in entrusting the continuation of the club's FA Cup campaign to veterans.
In the event, whether gamble, long overdue selection or, more likely, a state of affairs prompted by injury and absence, it was the forward pairing of Jason Euell and Carl Cort which did as much as anything to try to prolong Wimbledon's run in the competition. They were direct, strong and if their control did not always match their ambition they were formidably difficult to dispossess. It was Euell who got their goal in the opening 15 minutes and for almost an hour afterwards that seemed as if it would be perfectly adequate to secure a sixth-round place.
Indeed, with the Wolves defence taking something of a battering from the new partnership a second goal frequently seemed to be likely. Wolves were on the verge of running out of imagination and ideas when they broke down the right. It seemed unthreatening enough but the cross from Mark Atkins found its way to Mixu Paatelainen and his contact was assured and elusive enough to beat Neil Sullivan in the right corner.
Thus reprieved, Wolves decided to make the most of life. They finished the more positive and their substitute, Dougie Freedman, with time and space, had two shots from distances of 18 and 25 yards which might have been perturbing had they hit the target. Wolves have not won the old competition for 38 years and from the way their manager, Mark McGhee, spoke afterwards they do not consider themselves overwhelming favourites to end that drought. "I thought our best chance was winning the tie here. They will be stronger with players returning in the replay," he said.
Perhaps so, but the strength of Cort and Euell might also have won it for Wimbledon yesterday. They had already provided sufficient warning of their intent to test the concentration and pace of the Wolves defence when, in the 14th minute, a cross came in from the left. It appeared to brush Keith Curle's head before making its way to Stewart Castledine near the right edge of the area. He headed it back in and Euell's own header was out of Mike Stowell's reach.
Without ever being utterly assertive Wimbledon had some opportunities to increase their lead. None was better than the swinging, dipping volley in the 59th minute. It was struck by Vinnie Jones after a free-kick was cleared and Ronaldo himself could hardly have made a more crisp connection. Stowell did well to tip it over. But with two minutes left Jones had another attempt at a volley from a similar distance. This one narrowly avoided the corner flag and, by then, Wimbledon's chances of advancement had long since diminished.