Football: Latics show a back flaw

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The Independent Online
Wimbledon. . . . .5

Oldham Athletic. .2

RELUCTANTLY the hacks tore themselves away from a televised chat on long-gone England cricket tours to join the 3,386 hardy souls sprinkled around Selhurst Park.

How much more attractive seemed the nostalgic ramblings of Messrs Bedser, Compton and Statham than the entertainment we were about to witness. Eleven shopping days left to Christmas, two struggling teams, the Premier League's lowest ever crowd: all the ingredients were in place, as someone once said, for a Wimbledon 'classic'.

Of course, we should have known better. Wimbledon's capacity for the unexpected is matched only by the frailty of Oldham's defence. Put the two together and anything can happen. Everything did.

It was not that Wimbledon played particularly well, rather that the Latics' own version of the Crazy Gang handed it to them on a plate.

Three first-half blunders in the space of nine minutes effectively settled it. Long throws by Vinny Jones twice set up far-post strikes by Neil Ardley, and when Brian McAllister planted a free-kick in the heart of the Oldham penalty area, Dean Holdsworth could hardly have found more space had he been standing in the deserted Holmesdale end.

Individually the Oldham back four are all accomplished players; collectively, however, they are a manager's nightmare. 'Going forward we played some smashing stuff,' Joe Royle said, 'but at the back we're a puzzle.' The brighter side of Oldham's nature was evident just after the interval when Mark Brennan slotted in his first goal for the club.

Had Ian Olney not missed a sitter in the 50th minute, it could have been 3-2. But two minutes later Wimbledon had extended their lead to four goals as Andy Clarke and Holdsworth again sauntered through the wide open spaces.

Eleven minutes on, Milligan pulled one back for Oldham, but that could not stop them from becoming only the second team this season - Arsenal are the other - to leave Selhurst Park empty- handed.

Wimbledon: H Segers; N Ardley, R Joseph, V Jones, J Scales, B McAllister, D Blackwell, R Earle, D Holdsworth, L Sanchez, A Clarke. Subs not used: S Talboys, J Fashanu, N Sullivan (gk). Manager: J Kinnear.

Oldham Athletic: P Gerrard; G Halle, N Pointon, N Henry, R Jobson, S Redmond (C Fleming, 52 min), N Adams (R Palmer, 69 min), I Olney, G Sharp, M Milligan, M Brennan. Sub not used: J Keeley (gk). Manager: J Royle.

Referee: K Hackett (Sheffield).

Goals: Ardley (1-0, 17 min), Holdsworth (2-0, 22 min), Ardley (3-0, 26 min); Brennan (3-1 46 min); Clarke (4-1, 51 min); Holdsworth (5-1, 52 min); Milligan (5-2, 63 min).