Football: Roberts maintains Dons' Euro vision

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The Independent Online
Wimbledon 2 Derby County 1

ON A poor pitch with Robbie Earle missing for Wimbledon and Derby County struggling to achieve any kind of consistency this season, this was never likely to be a classic and so it proved. But at least it had goals - three more than these teams have managed in their last four Premiership meetings, and three more than several of the other games in the top division on Saturday.

Without Earle's steadying influence in midfield, Wimbledon seemed content to allow Derby the lion's share of possession, relying on their resolute defence and the diligent tracking-back of the midfield trio to see off the twin threat of Paolo Wanchope and Dean Sturridge. At times they came close to breaking point, with last-ditch tackles saving the day on a number of occasions following thoughtful build-up play by Derby.

But, having posed little or no threat themselves following Jason Euell's eighth-minute opener, when Derby did finally equalise through Wanchope's sixth goal of the season in his last game before starting a three-match suspension, Wimbledon responded with a four-man move involving Michael Hughes, the substitutes Ekoku and Leaburn, and Andy Roberts. Roberts finished it off in emphatic fashion to take the Dons, temporarily at least, back up to sixth place in the table.

They now face three matches in quick succession against their manager's old club, Tottenham, in the League and the two cup competitions. They are threatening Europe, as they did two years ago, on all three fronts.

Although Earle may have recovered from his torn hamstring, with Efan Ekoku and Marcus Gayle away on international duty and Euell and Carl Cort suspended, Joe Kinnear is left with only one recognised striker in Carl Leaburn for Saturday's Premiership game at White Hart Lane.

"I'm never going to be happy losing four strikers for a match against Tottenham, but thankfully it's a League match and at least they're all back for the two cup matches," the manager said. "I think the Worthington Cup semi-final is our best opportunity.

"We're only two games away from Wembley. Two seasons ago we played Leicester at the same stage and went out on away goals and got beaten by Chelsea in the FA Cup semi-final, so maybe we'll have a little bit of luck this year."

As for Derby, with homes games against Blackburn, Everton and Charlton coming up and trips to Sheffield Wednesday and Leicester in between, they have a reasonable chance to rediscover the kind of form that took them close to European qualification last season.

There may not be much that a few goals would not put right, and being forced to make do without the less than prolific Wanchope for a while might just prove a blessing in disguise.

Goals: Euell (8) 1-0; Wanchope (76) 1-1; Roberts (83) 2-1.

Wimbledon (4-4-2): Sullivan; Thatcher, Perry, Blackwell, Kimble; Euell, Roberts, C Hughes (Ekoku, 80), M Hughes (Kennedy, 87); Gayle, Cort (Leaburn, 72). Substitutes not used: Jupp, Bakke (gk).

Derby County (5-3-2): Poom; Laursen, Prior, Carbonari, Elliot (Harper, 85), Dorigo; Carsley, Eranio (Bohinen, 67), Powell (Burton, 85); Wanchope, Sturridge. Substitutes not used: Hunt, Hoult (gk).

Referee: A Wilkie (Chester-le-Street).

Bookings: Wimbledon C Hughes, Perry; Derby: Dorigo.

Man of the match: Euell.

Attendance: 12,732.

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