Football: Guppy strike stops rot at Leicester

Wimbledon 0 Leicester City 1
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The Independent Online
THERE WAS something terribly ironic in an item carried in Saturday's programme, on a page evidently printed before last Wednesday night. It said: "Joe Kinnear made history in midweek, with the game at Sheffield Wednesday, when he became the longest serving manager in Wimbledon's League history. Joe equalled Dave Bassett's 283 League games in charge with the 1-1 draw at Everton before clocking up the record-breaking game at Hillsborough."

Having been eliminated from both cup competitions by his old club, Spurs, in the previous month, and having expended considerable energy along the way, Wimbledon's season was in danger of falling apart. So when news came through of their 2-1 victory in Sheffield to follow two battling draws with Everton and Aston Villa, it was hard not to think, "Good old Joe, he's turned them round again."

Then came the announcement that he had suffered a heart attack an hour or so before Wednesday night's game. If any Premiership manager deserves a good, long rest it would be Kinnear and even he might have been glad to spend Saturday afternoon in his hospital bed, rather than watching this miserable match.

The second-lowest crowd of the season had turned out to greet the Worthington Cup finalists, and those who stayed away probably enjoyed a fine afternoon. The meeting of the two clubs who, more then any others, have won plaudits and admiration for their ability simply to survive in the top flight over the past few seasons was never likely to be a classic, and so it proved.

The small crowd, the bumpy pitch and, frankly, the quality of the football made it akin to watching a practice match at times. In the circumstances it would be appropriate to dwell on the positive aspects of the game and ignore both teams' shortcomings, but the plain fact is that, Steve Guppy's wonderful winning strike from distance in the sixth minute apart, there were precious few.

For Wimbledon Marcus Gayle went close with a header in first-half injury- time and 10 minutes after the break, with Frenchman Pegguy Arphexad replacing the injured Kasey Keller in the Leicester goal, Jason Euell had an equaliser mysteriously ruled out, possibly for offside. John Hartson, back after his four-match suspension, made no impact after coming on for Efan Ekoku a minute later.

Steve Walsh hit the bar for Leicester midway through the second half and Tony Cottee squandered a couple of half-chances, but nothing was going to stop their manager, Martin O'Neill, savouring the arrest of their recent bad run of results that had threatened to overshadow the trip to Wembley in a fortnight's time.

"It's the usual thing," O'Neill said. "We thought we were better than our position, but you're never better than your position, so today was massive for us." He added that Keller's withdrawal was merely a precaution.

"Hopefully Joe was asleep and hasn't heard the result," said David Kemp, in charge of Wimbledon along with Mick Harford in Kinnear's absence. "It's been a traumatic week. Maybe the seriousness of his illness has started to sink in for the players, but hopefully we can put it behind us. One of the major incidents in this club's history has happened - we don't want to make excuses but it puts football into perspective."

Goal: Guppy (6) 0-1.

Wimbledon (4-3-3): Sullivan; Cunningham, Perry, Thatcher, Kimble; Roberts, Euell, Earle; Ekoku (Hartson, 56), M Hughes (C Hughes, 75), Gayle. Substitutes not used: Ardley, Cort, Heald (gk).

Leicester City (3-5-2): Keller (Arphexad, h-t); Elliott, Taggart, Walsh; Kaamark, Savage, Lennon, Izset, Guppy; Cottee, Marshall. Substitutes not used: Gunnlaugsson, Fenton, Impey, Zagorakis.

Referee: R Harris (Oxford).

Booking: Wimbledon: C Hughes.

Man of the match: Guppy.

Attendance: 11,801.