The administrative mistake that allowed Emmanuel Omoyinmi to play against Aston Villa in the Worthington Cup quarter-final could yet prevent the club reaching Wembley and Europe. The Trinidadian goalkeeper will have to hope that his error six minutes from the end of a slow-burning local derby does not turn out quite so expensive in the end. At least he will have numerous opportunities to atone for it.
Hislop simply lost his grip on an in-swinging corner from Alan Kimble that may have held up a little in the breeze, and Neal Ardley knocked the ball past him. West Ham's manager Harry Redknapp did not even see the actual drop, admitting that he was already looking upfield. "It was a mistake from a great goalkeeper who rarely makes mistakes," Redknapp said. "I'd looked away and suddenly the ball was in the back of our net. At 2-1 I thought we had it sewn up, it was in the bag."
Instead the homeside had it in the onion bag. A manager as experienced and streetwise as Redknapp ought to have known better than to take anything for granted against Wimbledon. Forced to perform without their two leading scorers, John Hartson (out for a fortnight) and Carl Cort, they merely summed up the spirit of Wombles past and went out to dominate the first half.
Poor defending allowed them a goal in the 33rd minute, the central defender Hermann Hreidarsson heading in another Kimble corner. Kimble's metronomic left foot then supplied Ardley with a headed chance just before the interval, forcing Hislop to an excellent save, but in first half stoppage time Kimble neglected his defensive duties as a left-back and Trevor Sinclair stole past him to head in Paolo di Canio's cross.
West Ham resumed to a first chorus of "Bubbles" from their 10,000 followers and appeared to have found some inspiration at last. Until the equaliser, their only threat had been a 45-yarder floated wide by Di Canio after Neil Sullivan slipped and sent a free-kick straight at him.
Now they poured forward, suddenly confident on a soft pitch that may not have been as sticky as the Christmas puddings of old, but was still essentially unsuited to their style. As Sinclair began running menacingly at the home defence, Paulo Wanchope awoke and three times went close. Not until the 80th minute were they rewarded, however, Frank Lampard heading home another accurate cross by di Canio.
Now Redknapp may have been kicking off a long overdue second away win of the season, but just as West Ham had scored twice from poorly defended diagonal centres, so they would be undone for a second time by Kimble's corners, on this occasion through Hislop's late gaffe. There might have been an even later twist to spoil the sequence, Sinclair cheekily back- heeling Scott Minto's pass just beyond the far post. That would have been an injustice to Wimbledon, whose deserved point keeps them ahead of Egil Olsen's target for survival at the halfway stage of the season.
Goals: Hreidarsson (33) 1-0; Sinclair (45) 1-1; Lampard (80) 1-2; Ardley (84) 2-2.
Wimbledon (4-5-1): Sullivan; Cunningham, Hreidarsson, Andersen, Kimble; Ardley, Badir, Earle, Euell, Gayle; Leaburn (M Hughes, 71). Substitutes not used: Davis (gk), Francis, Waehler, Gray.
West Ham United (4-4-2): Hislop; Ferdinand, Ruddock, Margas, Minto; Sinclair, Lampard, Cole, Foe; Wanchope, Di Canio. Substitutes not used: Forrest (gk), Potts, Stimac, Keller, Carrick.
Bookings: Wimbledon: Euell. West Ham: Wanchope, Foe, Lampard.
Referee: S Dunn (Bristol).
Man of the match: Sinclair.