Football: Kinnear happily defying all logic

Premiership kick-off: Wimbledon still stubbornly refuse to accept the inevitable after 13 years in the top flight
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The Independent Online
THIRTEEN years now and Wimbledon are off and running again. Poorly supported, no home to call their own, not a penny spent on strengthening the team but still confident of surviving in the Premiership. "Hands up anyone who didn't tip us to go down," said their ebullient manager, Joe Kinnear.

Kinnear has heard it all before, the doom-laden forecasts, misrepresentation of Wimbledon's method, carping respect for their unquenchable spirit.

No team fancies the trip but trepidation is a cliche that Wimbledon turn to their advantage. No mere aerial bombardment but ability to get the ball down and move it around productively. "We aren't given credit for that but I'm past complaining," Kinnear added. "In any case it works for us because in worrying about our reputation teams ignore that we have talented players."

Wimbledon's 3-1 defeat of Tottenham on Saturday emphasised again the power of anxiety. Shaping up to deal with directness, Tottenham found themselves frequently out-passed and second best in cohesion.

In the corresponding fixture towards the end of last season Wimbledon went from a 2-1 lead to a 6-2 defeat, undone by David Ginola's wiles and Jurgen Klinsmann's clinical finishing. "There was a reason for that," Kinnear said. "We lost a player, then our concentration and the roof came in."

Wimbledon - trained up by the Olympic athletes Daley Thompson, Kris Akabussi and Derek Redmond - gave Christian Gross's team more than it could handle. This time the roof came in on his goalkeeper Ian Walker, forewarned after only three minutes when Robbie Earle went close with a header from Neil Ardley's corner.

With freedom from the injuries that kept them out of many matches last season Earle and Efan Ekoku may well prove Kinnear's belief that Wimbledon's strike rate will show a big improvement.

A hint of it came three minutes after half-time when Alan Kimble touched a free-kick to Michael Hughes who sent in an angled cross from which Earle outjumped Walker to put Wimbledon ahead. Nothing fancy, but effective and more to come.

When Kinnear was not watching the World Cup finals he spent a lot of time scouting abroad for players. "Of course, I saw some who are better than we have but not within our price range," he said. Closer to home, Kinnear tried for Mark Hughes before the Welsh international moved from Chelsea to Southampton. "Hughes is still a terrific player," Kinnear added, "but 20 grand a week! No way."

Kinnear has pounds 3m to spend but it is not burning a hole in his pocket. "I've looked all over the place, been to half a dozen countries but haven't seen anyone we could afford who would improve the team," he added.

How much would Kinnear have to pay for a more potent attacker than Ekoku? Served by Hughes who was a shrewd purchase last season and a great deal more effective on Saturday than the fitful Ginola, he put Wimbledon further ahead after an hour, rising majestically to beat Walker with a thumping header.

At last Tottenham woke up, taking advantage of Wimbledon's increasing tiredness with Ginola (who received a yellow card for diving) becoming more of a threat when released from the left flank.

Exploiting the space that began to appear on the right side of Wimbledon's defence, Stephen Carr launched a move that enabled Ruel Fox to cut Wimbledon's lead with a low shot. When Ginola then cut between two defenders to fire against the crossbar Wimbledon sent on fresh legs, but relief came with Ekoku's second goal in the 90th minute.

A poor start by Tottenham, last season's flaws still evident, very little coming from Les Ferdinand and Chris Armstrong. "Every player in the team has to think about working harder," Gross said. "Wimbledon are difficult enough to play against without giving them presents."

Effort is essential but unless Tottenham can show a big improvement a recent season ticket hike will take some justifying.

Goals: Earle (48) 1-0; Ekoku (59) 2-0; Fox (74) 2-1; Ekoku (90) 3-1.

Wimbledon (4-2-4): Sullivan; Cunningham, Perry, Blackwell, Kimble; Ardley (Fear, 82), Roberts, Earle, Hughes (Jupp, 83); Ekoku, Ewell (Gayle, 71). Substitutes not used: Kennedy, Heald (gk).

Tottenham Hotspur (4-2-4): Walker; Carr, Vega, Campbell, Tramezzani; Fox, Anderton (Saib, 72), Berti (Nielsen, 57), Ginola; Armstrong, Ferdinand. Substitutes not used: Calderwood, Baardsen, Allen.

Referee: G Poll (Tring).

Bookings: Wimbledon: Hughes. Tottenham: Ginola.

Man of the match: Hughes.

Attendance: 23,031.