Football: Wimbledon punished by Cottee

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Everton. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .3

WITH results like this Wimbledon are heading only one way and precious few fans are bothering to turn out to witness their demise: last night's attendance of 3,039 was the lowest recorded for the highest grade football in England, call it First Division or the Premier League.

Who could blame the thousands for staying away for this particular fixture had seen enough repeats already this season to satisfy the most fanatical, make that masochistic, supporter. And until the hour mark the latest instalment was heading towards another 0-0 shutout which had been the fate of three of their five previous meetings.

Then the roof fell in on a sorry, sodden Selhurst Park and for 14 minutes it rained goals. One end of the ground was virtually deserted but it was there that Everton celebrated in full as they took a 3-0 lead, revenge for their FA Cup defeat a fortnight ago and a climb over Liverpool in the table.

Tony Cottee, a striker in search of a new contract, was a two-goal scorer and from there Everton never looked back although until then they had hardly looked in it, their manager Howard Kendall describing it as a 'very important result' and 'three quality finishes'.

It was and they were, although quality was not the word that immediately sprang to mind in respect of Everton's work before the net-bursting began. They were comfortably second best behind a Wimbledon team who are fighting for their lives in the Premier League and needed to stick away one of two early chances to remove their anxiety.

It cannot help them to perform in front of empty stands. Joe Kinnear, their manager, was only dishing out sympathy and not stick afterwards. 'I'm not going to give the lads a hard time, what they need is an arm around them and a kiss and to bring them all back for Coventry on Saturday,' he said. 'Everton could have been dead and buried before half-time but individual mistakes let us down. If we can eliminate those we will be alright.'

Robbie Earle and John Fashanu, who struck his shot against the angle of bar and post, were the early Wimbledon culprits, Earle missed narrowly again soon after and Neville Southall had to be at his best to repel a header from John Scales.

The second half was not long gone when Ian Snodin was forced to scoop Dean Holdsworth's header off the line. Then came the goals. In the 61st minute Dean Blackwell's clearance cannoned off Peter Beardsley and fell nicely into Cottee's path. Ten minutes later Blackwell completely missed a long punt and Cottee applied his new-found confidence to devastating effect. Snodin's finish a minute later from a shrewd Beardsley pass was finishing of a similar order before Fashanu headed Wimbledon's lone reply.

Familiarity breeds contempt and it was no surprise when the end of the first half brought a spiteful challenge by Snodin on Roger Joseph, provoking an angry melee in which 17 players became involved. Wimbledon won that battle with the free-kick, but far more crucially, they lost the war.

Wimbledon: Segers; Joseph, Elkins, Jones, Scales, Blackwell, Ardley, Earle, Fashanu, Sanchez (Clarke, 67), Holdsworth. Substitutes not used: Talboys, Sullivan (gk).

Everton: Southall; Jackson, Ablett, Snodin, Watson, Keown, Harper, Beardsley, Cottee, Horne, Radosavljevic (Barlow, 63). Substitutes not used: Kenny, Kearton (gk).

Referee: K Hackett (Sheffield).

(Photograph omitted)