Football: Kinnear stays busy keeping calamity away

Leicester City 1 Wimbledon 0
Click to follow
The Independent Online
Given that his side are fifth in the Premiership with enough games in hand to go top were they to win them all, it might seem odd to hear Joe Kinnear talk about avoiding relegation.

In his five years in charge of Wimbledon, however, Kinnear has never taken anything for granted. Even in such a season as this, in which his team have won universal respect, he stubbornly resists complacency. "After three games we were 5-1 on to go down," he said. "Here we are now with 38 points. If you take 41 as the total you need to be safe we need three points to stay up. For a club like us that is always the first hurdle to clear."

He did mention Europe, too, but not with the starry-eyed wonder that accompanied the 19-match unbeaten run which propelled Wimbledon into high society. Since the bubble burst with the 5-0 thrashing at Aston Villa, they have won twice but failed to dispatch Crewe in the FA Cup, dropped points at home to Derby and now lost a match in which they were always second best. Kinnear is worried about where it might be leading.

Perhaps he has just cause. "I felt we looked a bit jaded," he said, which is the last thing needed at the season's most critical stage. Wimbledon's immediate fixture list includes a two-leg Coca-Cola Cup semi-final - against Leicester or Ipswich - as well as the rematch with Crewe and Premiership games against Manchester United, Middlesbrough, Liverpool and Arsenal.

"Being drawn against Manchester United in the Cup means we could face them twice in four days, both times at Old Trafford," Kinnear pointed out. "It is a time for the players to stick together, as they always do, and battle through. But in a way we might find ourselves victims of our own success."

Victory, meanwhile, gave Leicester a pyschological boost after a feeble performance at Leeds had left them without a win in five matches. "It was our best performance of the season," their manager, Martin O'Neill, declared. "We deserved to win but even if we hadn't got the goal I would have been happy in terms of the way we performed. We were mentally strong and stayed with them for the whole game," he said.

Matt Elliott, for whom O'Neill broke the club transfer record to shore up a suspect defence, adapted well to his new environment following his pounds 1.6m step-up from Oxford, but had less to cope with than he must have expected from Marcus Gayle and Efan Ekoku, who saw possession rarely and made ineffective use of what they had.

Supply lines were cut by Leicester's dominant midfield, in which Neil Lennon, returning from suspension, was outstanding.

Wimbledon at least defended well but were punished when goalkeeper Neil Sullivan, guilty earlier of a couple of handling errors, failed to cut out a corner from the left and presented Emile Heskey, Leicester's precocious 19-year-old forward, with a simple chance.

Goal: Heskey (72) 1-0.

Leicester City (4-4-2): Keller; Grayson, Elliott, Prior, Kamark; Izzet, Lennon, Parker, Heskey; Claridge, Marshall. Substitutes not used: Watts, Hill, Taylor, Robins, Poole (gk).

Wimbledon (4-4-2): Sullivan; Cunningham, Perry, Blackwell, McAllister; Ardley (Goodman, 77), Jones, Earle, Leonhardsen (Harford, 82); Ekoku, Gayle. Substitutes not used: Jupp, Fear, Murphy (gk).

Referee: S Lodge (Barnsley).

Man of the match: Lennon. Attendance: 18,927.