Football: Premiership poorer for Dons' penury
Dave Hadfield was a schoolboy convert to rugby league, the game which, one way or another, has dominated his life ever since. After working for newspapers in Shropshire and Blackpool (where he covered the fortunes of Blackpool Borough) he travelled the world, working mainly in Hong Kong and Sydney. He became The Independent's rugby league man in 1990 and has written five books on the game and broadcast extensively for Sky and the BBC. Dave played his last game at the age of 53 and would have set up a try if anyone could have been bothered supporting his break. When not writing about the sport, he now limits himself to a bit of tick and pass with his local club, the Bolton Mets. Family includes supporters - of varying degrees of dedication - of Salford, Wigan, Sheffield Eagles and St George Illawarra.
Monday 12 January 1998
Something is lacking in the Premiership this season - and not merely the serious challenge to Manchester United that Liverpool might reasonably have been expected to make.
We are also missing out on the glorious uncertainty over which of the high-flyers the unloved upstarts of Wimbledon were next going to embarrass.
With the exception of a couple of smash-and-grab raids at Aston Villa and Newcastle, they have generally known their place - and the division has been the duller for it. They have lost the ability to batter their betters; not so much the muggers in the alley as the gang just shouting threats from across the street.
Joe Kinnear was voluble on the reasons for this state of affairs as he played the "poor old us" card after this defeat by opponents they have made a habit of humbling.
"There are two leagues within the Premiership now - those with money and those without. We're in one division and Liverpool are in the other," he said.
Wimbledon have leapt across that great divide in the past, but can only do so when every department of their team is in good working order. At the moment, their defence and midfield can be as suffocating as ever, but they lack the menace in attack that throws opponents off balance. With Efan Ekoku injured, Marcus Gayle struggling and Carl Cort in need of a rest, Kinnear says that he does not have a striker in form.
As if to underline the difference between the two clubs, Wimbledon paraded their new signing, Carl Leaburn, on the same day that they faced their old boy, Oyvind Leonhardsen, for the first time.
Leaburn, physically a prototypical Wimbledon striker but primarily - at pounds 150,000 - cheap, is the sort of hungry player Kinnear hopes will get him a few goals. Liverpool spent many times that sum on Leonhardsen and, if he continues to fail to make an impact, it will be an inconvenience rather than a disaster. No wonder that Kinnear was warming to his "them and us" theme.
He remains adamant that Wimbledon will not oblige the critics, who, he believes, are rubbing their hands in anticipation of getting rid of them, by getting sucked into the relegation zone. And, for all their lack of attacking threat, they were well on their way to frustrating Liverpool until Jamie Redknapp's two goals in the last 18 minutes confirmed the economic order.
Where his colleagues had unerringly found Neil Sullivan with their shots, Redknapp found the corners - bottom right with his left foot, top left with his right.
Those goals made Liverpool's fifth consecutive League win look more convincing than it was, although there were encouraging performances from Phil Babb, calm and assured at the back, and Jason McAteer, who gave them much of their impetus.
But it was Redknapp who was the undisputed match-winner. The Liverpool captain, Paul Ince, backed a winner before the match - Una's Choice, at a generous 8-1, in the 1.50 at Leopardstown - but it was his midfield colleague who backed himself successfully in the home straight later that afternoon.
But, to extend Kinnear's analogy, the Premiership is a two-horse race and the selling-platers cannot be expected to upset the odds all the time.
Goals: Redknapp (71) 1-0; Redknapp (84) 2-0.
Liverpool (4-4-2): James; McAteer, Matteo, Babb, Harkness; McManaman, Ince, Redknapp, Leonhardsen (Berger, 70); Fowler, Owen. Substitutes not used: R.Jones, Carragher, Murphy, Friedel (gk).
Wimbledon (4-4-2): Sullivan; Cunningham, Perry, Blackwell, Kimble; M Hughes, Jones, Earle, Ardley; Gayle (Clarke, 74), Cort (Leaburn 55). Substitutes not used: C.Hughes, Solbakken, Heald (gk).
Referee: M. Bodenham (Looe).
Bookings: Wimbledon: Cunningham, Blackwell.
Man of the match: Redknapp.
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