Football: Scales tips balance for Dons

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The Independent Online
Wimbledon. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .2

Middlesbrough. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .0

ALL wins are vital but this was more vital than most, providing the means for Wimbledon to rise four places to a more secure 14th position in the table while increasing Middlesbrough's relegation concerns. With Leeds, Liverpool and Everton now beneath them the unloved Dons are entitled to ask: 'Who are we to worry?'

They kept a clean sheet, too, though that was an achievement beyond Vinnie Jones, who was booked yet again and is now just one more away from incurring a summons before the Football Association's discplinarians for collecting 41 points. A suspension, his fourth of the season, would seem to beckon.

The Wimbledon hard man was not alone in believing that this was an occasion for muscle. The importance of the six-pointer was evident in the same number of bookings, Boro winning that fight 4-2.

They lost the war, though, and by some distance, and that will be of great concern to their manager Lennie Lawrence. Back at Selhurst Park, where he earned his reputation as the ace escapologist with Charlton, this result leaves his team anxiously looking for a safety route.

'Wimbledon were right on the button and were too strong for us,' Lawrence admitted. 'We need to win three or four more games but I have been in worse positions than this at this time and stayed up.'

Survival in the Premier League is worth a sum approaching pounds 2m though typically Wimbledon go a step further, claiming that relegation could sound the death knell for this impoverished club.

Complimentary tickets to 2,000 schoolchildren ensured they would not be troubling the statisticians with another all-time low attendance. Not that they will grow fat on a crowd of 5,821; inevitably they will be sellers again before long.

John Scales, a target for Leeds and Liverpool, looks certain to be the next to depart. After 32 minutes the defender weighed in with his first goal of the season to give Wimbledon a priceless lead, driving home after Stephen Pears had parried a header from Robbie Earle.

Jones' offence was for failing to withdraw 10 yards at a free-kick, though earlier he had clattered clumsily into Tommy Wright. Apart from Andy Peake (encroaching) the remainder of the cautions (Boro's Pears and Stephen Mustoe and the home side's Gary Elkins) were all for fouls. Elkins showed his better side in the 75th minute when his long ball was plundered by Dean Holdsworth for Wimbledon's second.

Wimbledon: Segers; Joseph, Elkins, Jones, Scales, McAllister, Ardley, Earle, Fashanu, Holdsworth, Clarke (Berry, 87). Substitutes not used: Sanchez, Sullivan (gk).

Middlesbrough: Pears; Morris, Phillips, Kernaghan, Peake, Whyte, Hendrie, Mustoe, Wilkinson, Falconer, Wright (Slaven, 72). Substitutes not used: Mohan, Ironside (gk).

Referee: M Reed (Birmingham).

(Photograph omitted)