Ipswich Town. .1
WIMBLEDON, playing their first game of the season at Selhurst Park, ran out to 'The Boys Are Back In Town', but it was the boys who were backing Town who left with the biggest smiles.
The Dons ran hard, had '90 per cent of the play' in the view of their manager, Joe Kinnear, but had no answer to Ipswich's possession play, epitomised by the fast, skilful move which led to Gavin Johnson's winner.
It was not Wimbledon's night. If the paltry crowd of 4,954 was an early candidate for lowest of the season, the visitors' 37th-minute winner was a strong contender for goal of the year.
Mick Stockwell, Ipswich's busy midfielder, started the move deep in his own half, after yet another Wimbledon attack had foundered on Ipswich's solid defence. He transferred the ball to his right where Chris Kiwomya collected and slipped his man before chipping a perfectly weighted pass to Stockwell, who had made an 80- yard dash for the return. Wimbledon's back-pedalling defenders were helpless as Stockwell squared the ball into the penalty area for Johnson to side-foot the winner from eight yards. It was a delightful, irresistible team goal.
Johnson is making a habit of scoring important goals. He hit the goal at Oxford that won Ipswich promotion last year and rifled in another in Saturday's draw with Aston Villa. 'He is on a high at the moment,' Mick McGiven, the Ipswich team manager, said.
Wimbledon kept battering away and, even if their direct style is not a joy to behold they were worth an equaliser. Dean Holdsworth, their signing from Brentford, began to look a near pounds 1m forward as he foraged purposefully in the first half. 'He was like a lion,' Kinnear said. Twice Holdsworth demanded smart saves from Ipswich's Canadian pine of a goalkeeper, Craig Forrest, and another fulsome drive was blocked bravely by Neil Thompson.
But without their two players of genuine Premier League calibre, the injured John Fashanu and the unsettled Terry Phelan, Wimbledon's punch lacked its normal precision and power. Phelan could soon be on his way as Crystal Palace have met the asking price of pounds 2.5m for the Republic of Ireland defender.
Kinnear could have done with Phelan in defence last night as he would surely have added the necessary pace and bite to prevent Ipswich's goal. 'We got mugged,' Kinnear added.
Their luck nearly turned in the second half. In the 57th minute, Wimbledon at last found the net but Robbie Earle was adjudged to have diverted Warren Barton's free-kick past Forrest with his hand. No luck, two defeats, and the Phelan situation - no wonder the crowd is so poor.
Wimbledon: Segers; Joseph (Dobbs, 66), Elkins, Barton, Blackwell, Fitzgerald, Miller, Earle, Holdsworth, Sanchez, Berry (Clarke, 66). Substitute not used: Sullivan (gk).
Ipswich Town: Forrest; Whelan, Thompson, Stockwell, Wark, Linighan, Williams, Goddard, Johnson, Dozzell, Kiwomya (Milton, 70). Substitutes not used: Youds, Winters (gk).
Referee: R Hart (Darlington, Co. Durham).