Football: Wimbledon's trusty defence again make their point

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The Independent Online
Derby County 0 Wimbledon 0

WIMBLEDON'S own durable Fab Four might not have attracted the same plaudits as their more celebrated Highbury counterparts, but some records are beginning to bear comparisons.

Only Manchester United conceded fewer goals away from home last season, 17 to Wimbledon's 21. Messrs Adams and Company leaked a further two goals on their travels.

The centre-back pairing of Chris Perry and Dean Blackwell are nimble and combative, but lack the physical presence of the Arsenal colossuses. They, too, have been together for around 10 years, after first combining in the youth set-up as 15-year-olds. The two full-backs, Kenny Cunningham and Alan Kimble, both with more than five years of service, are fast and defensively competent, but do not possess the cutting edge of Lee Dixon and Nigel Winterburn.

That is Joe Kinnear's wider problem. His side are happy to absorb pressure but struggle to exert their own when the opposition are also in cautious mode. "I am sure we will both be happy with survival points," was Kinnear's assessment of the flying starts of his own side and that of Charlton. The trip to Pride Park provided a graphic illustration of his problem in a stale game.

In the first half, Derby lacked thrust and with Andy Roberts, the defensive corner of a midfield diamond, guarding the late thrusts of Lars Bohinen, the home side's options were limited. Wimbledon's own outlets, though, were also limited and their smattering of chances resulted from the predictable forces of set-pieces and diagonal punts into the danger areas.

Michael Hughes, the only Wimbledon variation on the left flank, was shouldered with too much responsibility for shielding the ball and Derby found it all too easy to launch the counter-attack, particularly in the second period when the Italian pairing of Stefano Eranio and Francesco Baiano were introduced as substitutes.

Kinnear is not averse to playing the sympathy card when analysing his problems in solving any deficiencies.

The Derby manager, Jim Smith, does not have the same excuse with pounds 5.35m in the bank from the sale of Christian Dailly to Blackburn. The manager's first priority was to reinvest in the "no-nonsense" Spencer Prior, who had a no-nonsense debut. "Dailly and Gary Rowett were good players but were not out-and-out defenders. I am also looking at getting a natural wide player to change things," Smith said.

That would divert the focus of his attack from the centre of the park and his lively front pair of Dean Sturridge and Paulo Wanchope. Both were involved in strong claims for refereeing indulgence, Sturridge with justification when his ankle was tapped by Roberts in the area and Wanchope without justification, when his push on a defender preceded a leaping header into the vacated Wimbledon goal.

Derby County (3-5-2): Hoult; Delap, Prior (Eranio, 70), Stimac; Laursen, Schnoor, Carsley, Bohinen (Baiano, 65), Powell; Sturridge, Wanchope. Substitutes not used: Poom (gk), Elliott, Burton.

Wimbledon (4-4-2) Sullivan; Cunningham, Perry, Blackwell (Jupp, 90), Kimble; Ardley, Roberts, Earle, Hughes; Euell (Gayle, 54), Ekoku (Kennedy, 84). Substitutes not used: Heald (gk), Fear.

Referee: J Winter (Cleveland).

Bookings: Derby County: Sturridge, Stimac. Wimbledon: Sullivan, Cunningham, Kimble.

Referee: J Winter (Cleveland).

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