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Football: Rain stops `play' at Wimbledon

Wimbledon 1 Blackburn Rovers 1
IN AN unremitting downpour more usually associated with Wimbledon in the last week of June, the lowest Premiership crowd of the season shivered their way through a sodden afternoon at Selhurst Park. At one point the roof of the main stand launched a waterfall onto the touchline, but on the pitch the goalscoring floodgates remained closed, with just a trickle of goals breaching two of the Premiership's leakiest defences.

"We were playing against a side that has a brand of football that is finely tuned," Roy Hodgson commented afterwards, his language alluding to a style of play which is so distinct it could indeed be copyrighted. Their penalty box pinball sinks supposed superiors week after week, and it came to their rescue on Saturday. In contrast, Blackburn lacked the rigid template with which Wimbledon habitually shape their games and struggled with a passing game in going which horse racing fans would describe as heavy.

For those who grew up in an era when football crowds took up chants and anthems, watching Wimbledon can be a funereal experience. There was no singing in the rain at Selhurst Park in a reserve match atmosphere; indeed, there was barely any noise at all. The only decibels of note came from the pounding rain on the roof of the stand and the choreographed clapping to the chorus of "We Will Rock You", played over the PA whenever Wimbledon won one of their numerous corners. This, at least, gave a chattering crowd an opportunity to warm their palms.

The first half was a miserable affair, with Blackburn in particular lacking touch and ambition. Wimbledon filled the void with their formula football, troubling their lacklustre opponents with a succession of flicks from forwards Carl Leaburn and Marcus Gayle, and Neal Ardley's near-post corners. Robbie Earle had three clear headers from these, striking a post with one and prompting a close-in save from the excellent Tim Flowers with another.

The second half opened abruptly with a Chris Sutton penalty after Ben Thatcher was adjudged, rather harshly, to have brought down Damien Johnson after 15 seconds. This reminded a rather peeved Wimbledon that dominance alone would not suffice and they redoubled their attack on the Blackburn goal. Earle claimed the equaliser, diverting a Gayle header past Flowers with a shrug of the shoulder.

Blackburn's new pounds 4.25m signing, the Welsh international striker Nathan Blake, replaced the unremarkable Davies with a quarter of an hour to go. To paraphrase his poet namesake, the ex-Bolton man's entrance was Tygerish, his muscular presence and fearful symmetry troubling his marker Chris Perry. He could have scored at least twice, notably from a header directed straight at Neil Sullivan.

This was an uninspiring game in appalling conditions, but come the end of the season neither side are likely to be relegation material. Wimbledon have the fight, Blackburn have the money, while both sides have reserves of pride to ensure their respective survival.

Goals: Sutton (pen) (47) 0-1; Earle (76) 1-1.

Wimbledon (4-4-2) Sullivan; Cunningham, Perry, Blackwell (Kimble, 73), Thatcher; Ardley (Cort, 73), Earle, Hughes, Euell; Leaburn (Kennedy, 85), Gayle Substitutes not used: Francis, Heald (gk).

Blackburn Rovers (4-4-2) Flowers; Kenna, Davidson, Peacock, Henchoz; Duff, Sherwood, McKinlay (Dailly, 66), Johnson; Sutton, Davies (Blake, 77). Substitutes not used: Marcolin, Croft, Fettis (gk).

Referee: G Willard (Worthing).

Bookings: Wimbledon: Hughes. Blackburn: Sherwood.

Attendance: 12,526.

Man of the match: Flowers.