Football: Yorke exceeds late expectation

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The Independent Online
Aston Villa. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .1

Wimbledon. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .0

A LATE START, a late goal. Increasingly the signs point to the destination of the inaugural Premier League championship, tilting first towards Old Trafford, then back to Villa Park, remaining undecided until the last kick of the last game. Until then we can only pray that the quality of football is spared the bashing that awaits the nerve ends of the supporters.

Sadly, yet predictably, that was not the case here after more than 34,000 were lured from the comfort and warmth of their living rooms by the promise of top-of- the-table action at bottom-of-the- table prices and never mind that it was you-know-who on the other side.

Wimbledon were in no mood to disappoint. Dogged, persistent and uncompromising as always they are the last team aspiring champions would choose to meet on the road towards the rainbow's end.

The Villa fans did not like what they saw - who does? - and voiced their frustration and fears in the ritualistic booing of Vinnie Jones every time he prepared to launch another of his huge throws towards their goalmouth.

Yet on the final whistle the stoical but sparse ranks of the Wimbledon faithful - 'apparently by Friday they had only sold 13 tickets so it must have been their minibus breaking down on the way which caused the delayed start', joked the Villa manager, Ron Atkinson - had been swelled by the multitude sporting claret and blue.

For the reason turn to the last page of the fixture programme which sends Manchester United to Selhurst Park on 8 May for an away game with Joe Kinnear's side that represents the ultimate test of all at the end of the long and weary haul to the summit.

'This was as difficult a fixture as we will have this season,' Atkinson said, before adding mischievously, 'I would like to see Wimbledon needing three points to stay up on the last day'.

Two vital points appeared to be slipping from his grasp when, 11 minutes from time, Dwight Yorke reacted first with strength and determination to Cyril Regis's assist after Paul McGrath had sent a wayward corner back in.

The snow which had held off until that decisive moment now fell like some ticker-tape celebration on high. Yorke jigged his delight in front of the bargain-hunters on the Holte End while Dean Saunders and Regis, goalscorers shackled this day by John Scales and Brian McAllister, bore huge smiles of relief.

Unchained, Villa threatened again with a close-range header from Yorke and a rare effort with his right from Steve Staunton. Each time Hans Segers stood up well.

It was the first goal he had conceded in the League for five games and the excellence of Wimbledon's defending should ensure they are free of relegation worries, and Atkinson denied his dream scenario, by the time United roll into Selhurst Park.

And while they are disadvantaged in respect of midfield class their uncomplicated methods will always trouble defenders. Steve Cotterill saw a shot cleared off the line by Neil Cox while their winger Neil Ardley twice came close.

Wimbledon were on good behaviour, too. Even the undisciplined Jones, while John Fashanu must have worn a hole in his brown gloves with the number of handshakes he extended to opponents.

Ten weeks from now the gesture will be one of either championship congratulations or commiserations to the team whose colours mirror his red boots.

Goal: Yorke (79) 1-0.

Aston Villa: Bosnich; Barrett, Staunton, Teale, McGrath, Richardson, Houghton, Cox, Saunders, Yorke, Regis. Substitutes not used: Beinlich, Small, Spink (gk).

Wimbledon: Segers; Joseph, Elkins, Jones, Scales, McAllister, Ardley, Earle, Fashanu, Cotterill, Dobbs (Clarke, 80). Substitutes not used: Blackwell, Sullivan (gk).

Referee: S Lodge (Barnsley).