Football: Kinnear cleaning up Dons' record

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The Independent Online
Joe Kinnear, the Wimbledon manager, has admitted he is trying to clean up the Crazy Gang's "bad boy" image and his drive has paid off so far.

The Dons' physical game and old tactics of intimidating the opposition used to mean a long list of yellow cards and suspensions. But now Wimbledon boast one of the best disciplinary records in the Premiership - a statistic which Kinnear believes will help their push for honours.

Kinnear said: "We have done ever so well this year as far as suspensions are concerned because that has also taken a big toll on us in the past. We've always had one of the worst records but now we have one of the best. It's part of our act we have tried to clean up to make sure we don't lose players in vital areas and teams such as Arsenal are suffering in that respect themselves."

Kinnear believes losing as few players as possible to suspensions could be the key to negotiating the club's increasingly crowded fixture list. The Selhurst Park club are still involved in the two major cup competitions and are fifth in the Premiership with games in hand on the leaders.

After watching his side beat Crewe to secure a fourth-round FA Cup tie with the holders, Manchester United, at Old Trafford on Saturday, Kinnear said: "We've got a lot of games coming up and we're a victim of our own success in some respects.

"I'm not boasting about that in any way but it's a fact that we are almost on three games a week. It's a frightening thought injury-wise and also on the fitness of the players. We can't afford to get any more injuries or let anyone go."

They face United again at Old Trafford next Wednesday in a Premiership game where victory would vastly improve Wimbledon's chances of a European place. And the Dons then face three games with Leicester in quick succession with two legs of the Coca-Cola Cup semi-final and a chance of revenge for last week's Premiership defeat at Filbert Street in between.

Kinnear is especially keen for the return of two defenders, Alan Kimble and Ben Thatcher. Kimble has pulled a hamstring and will be out for a month. England Under-21 player Thatcher has been out for six weeks.

Kinnear said: "I'm desperate to get people like Kimble and Thatcher back, to pump up the squad. I've lost both my left-backs so I've got Brian McAllister in there who's switched from being a centre-half to being a left-back."

Kinnear knows his side will have to produce a much better performance than they did against Crewe, who they struggled to kill off despite a goal after just 12 minutes. He said: "It's going to be extremely tough for us against United because they are arguably the best club in England at the moment. They are the benchmark.

"But you have got to go up there, be brave and give it your best shot. That's exactly what we've done in the past and that's exactly what we will do again. We've got plenty to look forward to and it's just a case of working our socks off at the moment."

Tuesday night's man of the match, Robbie Earle, agreed that Wimbledon will now assume their traditional role of underdogs for one of the few times this season. He said: "It is a daunting task but the pressure will be off us because we are not expected to get a result.

But we know if we play to our capabilities we can get a result as we've got a good squad together now."