Football / FA Premiership: Fashanu at arm's length

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The Independent Online
Wimbledon. . .1

Berry 48

Everton. . . .1

Barlow 33

Attendance: 6,394

THIS run-of-the-mill meeting between a pair of mid-table Premiership clubs at Selhurst Park yesterday was invested with unexpected significance on account of two points - John Fashanu's elbows. Three days after hospitalising Gary Mabbutt following a collision at Tottenham, the Wimbledon captain was determined to alter an image that depicts him as the most dangerous Don since Corleone.

Fashanu's hard-man reputation took a knock yesterday. On his best behaviour throughout, he engaged the Everton centre-halves, Dave Watson and Gary Ablett, in a gentle aerial duel, which was rightly rated 'a fair battle' by his manager, Joe Kinnear. Otherwise he was subdued, almost to the point of distraction.

Engaging and eloquent off the field, Fashanu has experienced another contentious year on it. Odious incidents involving Kevin Moran, Viv Anderson and even a club colleague, Lawrie Sanchez, reached a nadir at White Hart Lane on Wednesday, his challenge on Mabbutt leaving the Spurs captain requiring a lengthy operation to insert a titanium metal plate and screws behind his eye socket.

The possibility of action against Fashanu is receding quickly, and Kinnear considers the case closed. Mabbutt, the consummate professional, wishes the matter dropped, a decision his club will reluctantly honour. The FA could still intervene - although this is considered unlikely given the referee's verdict that he could not detect 'deliberate intent' to harm on Fashanu's part and, almost as importantly, Graham Kelly's comments during the Uzzell-Blissett trial. The controversy may yet be addressed by the Professional Footballers' Association, the players' union body who have been urged to act by Ossie Ardiles, Spurs' manager, and, yesterday, Bob Wilson, the respected presenter of BBC's Football Focus.

The problem, for all parties, lies in proving intent: aerial challenges invariably necessitate the instinctive elevation of elbows to balance a rising frame. The danger emerges when the elbows are lifted to head height.

Fashanu kept his arms down yesterday and appeared wary when seeking the ball in the air. 'It's been a difficult couple of days for him,' Kinnear said. 'He was very down on Thursday. I had him in for a chat to build him up. I told him not to let it worry him. I said, 'You are captain of the club and we'll look up to you at times.' He said, 'Don't worry guv.' I thought he behaved himself very well today given every challenge was being looked at.'

Kinnear, surprised by the extent of the opprobrium voiced in certain quarters, added: 'I just wonder whether if Fash had come from another club there would have been less fuss. The best thing is that Mabbsy has behaved impeccably and said it was a complete accident.'

Every camera lens was trained on Fashanu yesterday but he had a quiet match and even his challenges lacked the usual menace. The former England striker was even awarded a free-kick when Watson, leaping late, fouled him just before half-time.

By then Everton, short on stature but sweet on movement, were ahead, Stuart Barlow scoring with a firm downward header from Andy Hinchcliffe's left- wing cross. For the tiny and often erratic striker nicknamed 'Barn Door' (because he couldn't hit one), it was a moment to savour.

The cutting edge of Barlow, a former butcher, was soon emulated by a former banker, Greg Berry. Dean Holdsworth, showing commendable control, shot underneath Neville Southall for the Wimbledon No 34 to poke the equaliser over the line.

(Photograph omitted)