Football: Wimbledon join the big boys

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Liverpool 1 Wimbledon 1

Not for the first time in his life Joe Kinnear was right. There is a tendency to patronise his Wimbledon team, to regard them as the Premiership's perpetual minnows, while neglecting their qualities. They have matured, he argues, from snapping underdogs to be Goliaths in their own right.

"It's been difficult to win people over," he said. "Not just up here. But we get a result at somewhere like Anfield and the reaction is `you've had a lucky day, you've beaten us.' We've moved on from there."

So, if you do as Kinnear urges and strip away the romantic notion that Wimbledon are a club performing wonders just to live with the elite and judge them purely in footballing terms, what do you have? On the evidence of this match, a fine and improving team.

Roy Evans, Liverpool's manager, got to the nub when he said the Dons had not been as difficult as they have been in the past. By that he meant Wimbledon had not snarled in the stereotypical manner, but then they had not needed to. They had suppressed the home team with their football, not just their inexhaustible supply of spirit.

The Liverpool midfield, for example, was eclipsed by the passing and movement of Robbie Earle, Oyvind Leonhardsen and, yes, Vinnie Jones. Many times would have wilted by going behind after 33 seconds, Wimbledon fought back in the best meaning of the words, using their brains as well as brawn. They looked what they are, unbeaten for 15 matches and within touching distance of the top of the Premiership.

"There's a feeling `Christ, we are never going to get beaten'," Kinnear said. "We have been playing so well we expect to get a result. You can come to Anfield and go overboard about the qualities of the Liverpool players and instil fear in your own team. But we believe in ourselves. We always have a chance."

Nevertheless, Kinnear conceded the game plan went out of the window when Dean Blackwell's mistake allowed Stan Collymore to score before Jones had time to bark never mind bite. For half an hour Collymore ripped Wimbledon to pieces but without the ball even Pele was useless and as the visitors took a stranglehold of possession his influence dwindled. To an extent when Leonhardsen equalised after 67 minutes, Liverpool's initial supremacy had become a distant memory.

The final whistle brought the final indignity, the home team booed at Anfield. "I don't want to see the headline `Evans Blasts Crowd'," the Liverpool manager said. "But I have to ask the fans to be patient. We are all anxious. We all feel we could do better. If they get behind us it will make it easier."

Evans preaches patience while Kinnear's impatience for the future was blatant. Three imminent home games against Nottingham Forest, Blackburn Rovers and Sunderland open the prospect of Wimbledon reaching the new year in the top three and as the manager points out, they have the happy habit of being 10 points better in the second half of the season than the first.

"Europe is a realistic possibility," he said. "Wimbledon versus Inter- Milan has a nice ring to it. We are all dreamers and we are no different to anyone else." At this rate the dream could come true.

Goals: Collymore (1) 1-0; Leonhardsen (67) 1-1.

Liverpool (3-5-2): James; Wright, Ruddock, Matteo (Babb, 17); McAteer, Barnes, Redknapp, Thomas (Berger, 63), Bjornebye; Collymore, Fowler. Substitutes not used: Kennedy, Jones, Warner (gk).

Wimbledon (4-4-2): Sullivan; Cunningham, Perry, Blackwell, Kimble; Ardley, Jones (Fear, 74), Leonhardsen, Earle; Ekoku, Gayle. Substitutes not used: Clarke, Reeves, Harford, Murphy (gk).

Bookings: Liverpool Fowler.

Referee: P Danson (Leicester).

Man of the match: Earle. Attendance: 39,027.