Football: Little Benifit from Villa's reformation

Wimbledon 0 Aston Villa 0
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The Independent Online
STARVED OF points and goals, Wimbledon and Aston Villa settled for half a loaf as being better than none on a grim afternoon in South London yesterday.

It was a first draw for each in four games that have dented their respective aspirations for the season. But the crowd were left hungry for something more than the stale old scraps on offer. Villa could derive some satisfaction from a clean sheet, John Gregory having switched his customary 3-5-2 formation to a 4-4-2, but the two points surrendered meant more ground lost on the big three leading the Premiership.

Despite some good individual performances, they were unable to take advantage of dominating the first half and could not extend that superiority either before or after Stan Collymore's 14-minute appearance as a substitute.

Wimbledon have now completed six games without scoring. Joe Kinnear says that for the rest of the season Wimbledon must take as their theme song "I get knocked down, but I get up again" - amending it presumably to "I get knocked out". The danger is that tumbling out of two cups with the sniff of Wembley Way in their nostrils might prove as heavy a blow as two years ago, when their season simply collapsed.

Villa adapted well to their new shape. Simon Grayson, given a rare appearance, sat a little deeper than the other midfielders and, with Paul Merson rarely static, it was Wimbledon's back four who were caught flat and square.

Three times early on Chris Perry and Dean Blackwell were left behind by sharp runs from Dion Dublin and Julian Joachim. In the first minute, Dublin was onside as he went past Perry and almost lobbed Neil Sullivan, who managed to divert the ball over the bar. Ben Thatcher's determined tackle was required to stop Joachim taking advantage of Merson's through pass, and Neil Sullivan was injured falling at Grayson's feet after the defence had been split again.

Michael Oakes in the Villa goal, though alerted by the presence in the squad of Mark Bosnich for the first time in five months that he needed to be on his mettle, was not required to make a save for 43 minutes, falling to clutch Neil Ardley's shot. He had so little to do that during the half- time interval Gregory sent him out onto the scarred pitch for some extra practice, which was rewarded as Wimbledon at last pressed forward more threateningly.

Oakes saved Marcus Gayle's volley in the 59th minute and Efan Ekoku's header shortly afterwards, but those opportunities proved to be the last of a forgettable game.

Wimbledon (4-4-2): Sullivan; Cunningham, Blackwell, Perry, Thatcher (Kimble, 25); Ardley, Roberts, Earle, Euell; Ekoku (Leaburn, 87), Gayle. Substitutes not used: Heald (gk), C Hughes, Kennedy.

Aston Villa (4-4-2): Oakes; Watson, Scimeca, Southgate, Wright; Taylor, Grayson, Hendrie, Merson; Dublin, Joachim (Collymore, 76). Substitutes not used: Bosnich (gk), Barry, Samuel, Thompson. Referee: P Alcock (Kent). Bookings: Wimbledon: Perry. Aston Villa: Grayson.

Man of the match: Watson.

Attendance: 15,582.

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