Football: Wimbledon hand the Hammers a gift of three points
Wimbledon 1 West Ham United 2
Monday 29 December 1997
This post-Christmas production at Selhurst Park was a pantomime entitled the Three Unwise Men. Between them, the Wimbledon defenders Ben Thatcher, Alan Kimble and Kenny Cunningham wrapped this match up and presented it as a gift to their visitors yesterday. All very charitable, but Wimbledon's manager, Joe Kinnear, was not exactly revelling in his side's generosity afterwards.
Wimbledon's previous home match six days earlier, against Arsenal, had seen the premature departure of all 22 players as the floodlights failed. Yesterday just one player left earlier than scheduled - a lot earlier. Only two and a half minutes had been played when Thatcher was dismissed after appearing to elbow Paul Kitson after the West Ham forward had been penalised for offside.
Kitson spun to the ground clutching his head following Thatcher's mystifying intervention. Kinnear said he was reserving judgement afterwards until he had seen a recording of the incident, although he did say that, if Thatcher had used his elbow, the referee was right to send him off.
For Thatcher, who was sent off while playing for the England Under-21 side recently, it was another worrying indication that a promising career could be undermined by a suspect temperament.
For West Ham, it was an invitation to collect their second win in two days, and they set about taking their opportunity as first Frank Lampard, then Kitson, who was studiously booed throughout the rest of the match by the bulk of the 22,087 crowd, tested Neil Sullivan's reflexes.
But when West Ham's opener arrived after half an hour, it came via a Wimbledon boot. Lampard created an opening after exchanging passes with Kitson, but then gave up responsibility by trying to square for John Hartson. His pass was overhit, but the home left-back, Kimble, obligingly stuck out his foot to drive the ball inside the post.
West Ham's second, nine minutes into the second half, came against the run of play after a period of sustained pressure by the 10-man operation, for whom Carl Cort, substituting for the hamstrung Marcus Gayle, looked hugely promising up front.
However, Wimbledon's fervent efforts were undermined by a woefully short back header from Cunningham which allowed Kitson to dodge past the keeper and drive home his third goal in four matches.
Neil Ardley tried to get into the pantomime action after 72 minutes by heading the ball neatly over his oncoming keeper under pressure from Stan Lazaridis, but on this occasion Dean Blackwell was on hand to prevent another pratfall, and the afternoon ended with a mild but irrelevant flourish for the Dons as Stale Solbakken pulled a goal back with virtually the last kick of the match. It was no consolation at all.
Goals: Kimble (30 og); 0-1; Kitson (54) 0-2; Solbakken (90) 1-2.
Wimbledon (4-4-2): Sullivan; Cunningham, Blackwell, Thatcher, Kimble; Earle, Jones (Clarke, h-t), Ardley, Solbakken; M Hughes, Gayle (Cort, 31). Substitutes not used: C Hughes, Reeves, Heald (gk).
West Ham United (4-4-2): Forrest; Breacker, Pearce, Ferdinand, Unsworth; Impey, Lomas, Lampard, Lazaridis; Hartson, Kitson. Substitutes not used: Potts, Rowland, Abou, Paulo Alves, Lama (gk).
Referee: P Durkin (Portland).
Sent off: Wimbledon: Thatcher.
Man of the match: Kitson.
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