Football: In-touch Earle makes his point

Wimbledon 1 Blackburn Rovers 1 Earle 76 Sutton pen 47 Half- time: 0-0 Attendance: 12,526
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The Independent Online
IT WAS bleak at Selhurst Park yesterday but the game refused to match the conditions. The sides hardly conspired to provide a classic - their league positions rendered that unlikely - but they overcame the difficulties posed by an increasingly heavy pitch under relentless and torrential rain.

In the final 15 minutes, from the moment Wimbledon sneaked a justified equaliser, maximum points might have gone either way. The draw was fair but both clubs will be dissatisfied. It leaves Blackburn too near the wrong end of the table, while Wimbledon have now gone five league matches without a win.

The neater football came from Blackburn but the play more appropriate to the surface belonged to Wimbledon. While one attempted to play precise, quick passes the other realised this might not be the way to benefit. Wimbledon launched assaults by moving the ball swiftly down the flanks - from distance if necessary - and thumping over crosses. The Blackburn defenders must have lived in fear of deflections and ricochets as the pitch moved from slippery to mud-churned.

From early in the contest it seemed Wimbledon might be destined to be denied. In the seventh minute Jason Euell headed narrowly wide from Kenny Cunningham's low cross and soon after Robbie Earle did likewise from Neil Ardley's corner, though he reduced the size of the gap between woodwork and ball.

Blackburn were being well served by Tim Sherwood in midfield and while Chris Sutton and Kevin Davies ran their socks off at the front it was clear the former is a man in form and the latter is not. Davies cost pounds 7 million from Southampton in the summer and has yet to score. The signing this week of Nathan Blake - after Dion Dublin turned them down - might put Davies under further pressure. But his manager, Roy Hodgson, said later: "I'm worried for him, not about him. There is a difference in those prepositions." It occurred, not for the first time, there may be a difference between Hodgson and other managers as well, since not many others muse on fine grammatical distinctions in protecting their players.

Wimbledon finished the first half the more ebullient and might have spent the interval wondering why they had not scored. Naturally, it was Blackburn who did so within 15 seconds of the resumption. Damien Johnson, having made his way rapidly into the Wimbledon area was tumbled over by Ben Thatcher. Penalty, signalled the referee to Wimbledon protests. The referee was persuaded to consult a linesman but stuck to his decision. Tackling is hard to judge in such conditions but referees must still apply the law. Chris Sutton's shot from the spot went hard to Neil Sullivan's left.

This was not the signal for Wimbledon to give up. They continued their policy of winning corner upon corner but Blackburn kept scrambling away. When Michael Hughes's 25-yard volley was beaten out by Tim Flowers the task seemed beyond them. But Alan Kimble, one of a mass of substitutes, put in a curving corner from the left. Marcus Gayle produced a glancing header and Robbie Earle claimed the touch which took the ball over the line.

Blake shot narrowly wide for Blackburn after a sharp turn, Sherwood had a shot cleared off the line, Euell's injury-time volley crashed against a bar. They might have wanted more but neither team had cause for complaint. Joe Kinnear, the Wimbledon manager, confirmed later he had completed the signing of Gareth Ainsworth from Port Vale for an initial pounds 1 million. It is heartening to know the Crazy Gang continues to attract members.