Football: Leonhardsen enhances his rising value to Wimbledon

Everton 1 Wimbledon 3
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The Independent Online
Although Wimbledon's exalted position in the Premiership is due in no small part to being able to avoid selling anyone this year, thoughts occasionally turn to how much Oyvind Leonhardsen might be worth on the open market.

The Norwegian was a modest signing from Rosenborg Trondheim, but his contribution to the cause this season is such that his manager, Joe Kinnear, cannot help musing on his potential value. "We'd probably get five, six, seven million if and when the time comes," he said after Leonhardsen had again played a major role in the victory that got Wimbledon back on the rails after the spectacular end to their unbeaten run at Aston Villa. Not that Kinnear, who celebrated his 50th birthday and 35 years in football in style, wants to unload. Leonhardsen is too important to his side's success for that.

Everton's Joe Royle echoed the observation of many opposing managers this season. Wimbledon never surprise you. You know exactly what they are going to do, but they do it very well.

What they do with such expertise is to stretch and harry defences through the tireless running to and from wide positions of Efan Ekoku and Marcus Gayle.

Both got a goal in Wimbledon's second half demolition of a leg-weary Everton, but Leonhardsen's use of the space that the two front men create has been an equally important factor in their march onwards and upwards.

He scored the middle goal of the three, latching on to a lofted through ball from the debutant full-back, Duncan Jupp, that cynics would call typically Wimbledon.

In fact, Wimbledon played some fluent, controlled football and if that goal typified anything in their armoury it was the excellence of their finishing. And even with three players ruled out with flu on the morning of the match they retained their shape and organisation.

The same could not, over the 90 minutes, be said for Everton. They were forced by injury and illness to field a number of players in unfamiliar positions and others for whom the novelty consisted of being in the first team at all.

For the first half, it hung together reasonably well, with Gary Speed perfectly assured at left back and Graham Stuart filling the Andrei Kanchelskis role with some aplomb.

It was Stuart who put Everton ahead, scoring from a pass by John Ebbrell, pressed back into action after a 10-game absence. But he was one of several players who felt the pace after the break, when the benefits of Wimbledon's day off on Boxing Day also came into the equation.

Goals: Stuart (23) 1-0; Ekoku (59) 1-1; Leonhardsen (70) 1-2; Gayle (76) 1-3.

Everton (4-4-2): Southall; Hottiger, Barrett, Unsworth, Speed; Stuart, Ebbrell (Hills, 80), Grant, Barmby; Ferguson, Rideout (Branch, 73). Substitutes not used: Gerrard (gk), Allen, Limpar.

Wimbledon (4-4-2): Sullivan; Jupp, McAllister, Blackwell, Kimble; Leonhardsen, Jones, Cunningham, Ardley; Ekoku, Gayle. Substitutes not used: Reeves, Harford, Clarke, Fear, Murphy (gk).

Referee: M Bodenham (Cornwall).

Bookings: Everton: Rideout. Wimbledon: Cunningham.

Man of the match: Leonhardsen.

Attendance: 36,733.