Albion settle for point as promotion challenge stalls

Wimbledon 0 West Bromwich Albion 0

An anxious public address announcer warned Albion fans to refrain from their trademark "boing-boing" celebration for fear that the temporary stands at the National Hockey Stadium might not withstand the strain as the erstwhile First Division leaders took on the side at the opposite end of the table.

In the event, he need not have bothered. Visiting supporters had no reason not to keep their feet firmly on the ground last night as Gary Megson's team stuttered to a fourth game without a win, leaving the new front runners, Norwich, with a five-point advantage. Indeed, Wimbledon considered themselves unlucky not to complete a double after winning at the Hawthorns in October.

Megson had been looking for a positive response from his side after a defeat at Coventry and a fortunate draw at home to Derby, which had led him to accuse some players of taking promotion for granted. Instead, his pitchside body language indicated continuing agitation as Wimbledon defied their status as relegation favourites.

"We have a lot of nervous players at the moment and it is difficult to play winning football in that frame of mind," he said afterwards. "It would have been a kick in the teeth had we lost."

Nonetheless, Wimbledon passed the ball confidently and dictated much of the play, and only the quick reactions of Russell Hoult stopped them capping a lively performance with a winning goal close to the end, after Patrick Agyemang had been left with only the Albion goalkeeper to beat following a careless giveaway by Jason Koumas. Fortunately for Koumas, Hoult rushed to close the angle and made enough contact with Agyemang's shot to deflect it narrowly wide.

The Wimbledon manager, Stuart Murdoch, kept faith with the 17-year-old striker Jamie Mackie after a successful debut in a morale-boosting 3-0 win at Reading on Boxing Day, and his young side shaded Albion on chances created. Yet Albion squandered perhaps the best of them as Koumas hit the ball with too little power after Rob Hulse set up a clear shot from 10 yards just before half-time.

While full of praise for his side, Murdoch was unsure whether they could avoid slipping down a division. "We played well and deserved to win tonight but realistically we probably need to win 11 games from 19 and the fact is we have won only five so far," he said.

Megson seemed already willing to concede that overhauling Norwich may be beyond his side. "Two teams will go up and the way they are playing I think Norwich are nailed on to be one of them," he said.

Wimbledon (4-4-2): Banks; Darlington, Gier, Leigertwood, Lewington; McAnuff, Nowland, Reo-Coker, Small; Mackie (Gray, 63), Agyemang. Substitutes not used: Worgan (gk), Chorley, Tapp, Harding.

West Bromwich Albion (3-5-2): Hoult; Gaardsoe, Moore, Volmer; Chambers, Johnson (O'Connor, 63), Wallwork, Koumas, Clement; Horsfield, Hulse (Dobie, 76). Substitutes not used: Murphy (gk), Sakiri, Dyer.

Referee: P Walton (Northamptonshire).

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