Burton keeps ambition in check

Wimbledon 2 Preston North End 0
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The Independent Football

It is just possible this win – Wimbledon's third in four games – will kick-start a run that will lead to the Dons reclaiming the Premiership place they lost 18 months ago. Possible, but highly unlikely.

Despite the score, the match seemed more like another sad chapter in the lingering death of the Wimbledon football fairy tale. The three festive season wins still leave Terry Burton's side in 15th place, as close to the relegation zone as the final play-off berth, and the difficulty they had breaking down a Preston side badly missing their injured skipper Sean Gregan was painful.

With the "parachute payments" payable to relegated clubs for two years due to run out in May, Burton has no more money for reinforcements, and might lose still more players before the end of the season. On a day when he desperately needed a striker, it must have been galling to hear that David Nielsen had scored another brace on loan to Norwich.

At least Burton is not feeding any illusions. "Our aim is to win as much as possible and see where it takes us," he said after the game was won by two fortuitous goals in the last three minutes. Resigned to limiting his ambitions to his side's next game (at Portsmouth tomorrow), all he will say about a possible play-off chance is: "I would settle for that based on where we are now."

Only 6,051 hardy souls braved freezing temperatures to support a team living under the shadow of a possible move to Milton Keynes. But the Dons still showed enough spirit on the pitch to merit their victory.

They created enough chances to win by a good half-dozen, but their inability to puncture a dogged Preston midfield was exacerbated by a tendency to pump high balls into a defence patrolled by the towering centre-backs Colin Murdock and Rob Edwards. It could have proved costly if Preston's former Manchester United striker David Healy had been a little sharper with his side's best effort in the 73rd minute.

For all the running of Preston's Paul McKenna and Wimbledon's Michael Hughes, both sides lacked someone to take control of the middle of the park. Preston have one in Gregan, whose knee injury meant Mark Rankine had to play a more central role, but Wimbledon haven't. The only player who looked likely to make things happen was the exciting Jermaine Darlington, but from left-back his influence was limited.

Wimbledon picked up the points thanks to a freak 87th-minute goal. The ball broke from a corner to Darren Holloway. His mis-hit shot was going wide before an off-balance Neil Shipperley deflected it beyond David Lucas. As Preston threw men forward, two young Wimbledon substitutes, Jobi McAnuff and Patrick Agyemang, combined well to add a second in injury time.

Goals: Shipperley (87) 1-0; Agyemang (90) 2-0.

Wimbledon (4-4-2): Davis; Holloway, Cunningham, Andersen, Darlington; Ardley, Hughes, Francis, Cooper (McAnuff, 76); Shipperley, Connolly (Agyemang, 90). Substitutes not used: Feuer (gk), Gier, Mild.

Preston (4-4-2): Lucas; Alexander, Murdock, Edwards, Lucketti; Cartwright (Basham, 88), Rankine, McKenna, Anderson (Eaton, 79); Healy, Macken (Cresswell 65). Substitutes not used: Moilanen (gk), M Keane.

Booking: Preston: Edwards.

Referee: P Armstrong (Thatcham).

Man of the match: Darlington.

Attendance: 6,501.

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