Football: Newcastle outfoxed by Dons

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Wimbledon . . . . . . . .4

Earle 9, Blissett 26, Fashanu 55,

Holdsworth 63

Newcastle United. . . . .2

Beardsley pen 50, pen 90

Attendance: 13,358

OUT-THOUGHT and out-fought by the more determined Dons, Newcastle slumped to their third defeat in succession at Selhurst Park yesterday.

The Toon Army's foot soldiers had marched in their thousands to south-east London in search of faith-restoring victory following the midweek FA Cup ignominy at Luton. Instead they were forced to witness another chapter in the week's catalogue of defensive calamities.

Wimbledon thoroughly deserved the points and the reality of a match that bordered on a rout was not reflected in the final scoreline, which was subverted by Peter Beardsley's brace of penalties, the second a minute from time. Joe Kinnear's men, as muscular as the Magpies were lightweight, took charge early on and were two goals to the good after 25 minutes, both from headers facilitated by poor marking.

Robbie Earle was accorded the first from 10 yards, forcefully returning Mike Hooper's punched clearance of a Gary Elkin's corner back past the keeper. Suitably stirred, Newcastle tried to impose their own passing game. Ruel Fox, Kevin Keegan's new pounds 2.25m signing, started promisingly down the right but faded, doubtless frustrated by the lack of an imposing presence to aim at. Newcastle without Andy Cole, who badly bruised his shoulder and ego at Kenilworth Road, are like a marksman without a bullet.

As if shouldering the increasingly unbearable weight of Tyneside expectation were not enough, Newcastle had other problems. Barry Venison, fined two weeks' wages for drinking in a wine bar without permission on Thursday night, had another taxing experience, trying to contain the marauding trio of Gary Blissett, John Fashanu and Dean Holdsworth. Blissett escaped him and Steve Howey to notch Wimbledon's second, his downward header arrowing between Hooper and his left- hand upright. Hooper, who has looked uneasy of late, at least prevented Wimbledon from completely disappearing over the horizon before half-time with two exceptional blocks at the feet of Holdsworth.

Beardsley, with a violently struck 50th-minute penalty after Vinnie Jones had knocked over John Beresford, inspired brief hope for the Magpies but Wimbledon, playing football of the first order, simply drove down the other end to restore their two-goal advantage. Warren Barton and Peter Fear steered the ball upfield to Holdsworth, whose lay-off released Fear along the right. The midfielder's cross appeared meat and drink for Hooper but he stalled inexplicably, affording Fashanu a simple six-yard header.

Another defensive error produced Wimbledon's fourth, Howey, under pressure from Fashanu, clearing across his box to the grateful Holdsworth, who scored with ease. The Crazy Gang now look forward to next weekend's visit of Manchester United in the FA Cup. 'On our day we are a handful for anyone, including United,' Kinnear said. And Eric Cantona? 'We'll tie him him up or hijack their bus on the way down.' No need. Wimbledon are perfectly capable of staging the ambush on the park.

(Photograph omitted)