Byfield's strike spells curtains for Wimbledon

Wimbledon 1 Sunderland 2
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The Independent Online

Darren Byfield scored with his first touch in Milton Keynes last night, the substitute's 73rd-minute goal confirming Wimbledon's relegation to the Second Division and keeping alive Sunderland's outside chance of automatic promotion.

Darren Byfield scored with his first touch in Milton Keynes last night, the substitute's 73rd-minute goal confirming Wimbledon's relegation to the Second Division and keeping alive Sunderland's outside chance of automatic promotion.

Another substitute, Malvin Kamara, had just rewarded a spirited display by the soon-to-be MK Dons by cancelling out Marcus Stewart's 45th-minute opener for Sunderland, who initially showed few ill effects from their FA Cup semi-final disappointment against Millwall.

Byfield's close-range finish, which followed a centre by George McCartney, gave the tiring visitors the points their over all control merited. Wimbledon, who were in the Premiership as recently as 2000, never looked capable of the win needed to delay the inevitable.

Stuart Murdoch, the Wimbledon manager, showed a nice line in gallows humour after being forced to field an inexperienced side against a team who were in the Premiership 10 months ago. "We have to get our players out of college on a Thursday afternoon to train them," he said. "Then we tuck them up in bed on a Friday so they're not too tired to play."

He hopes to bring in new players once the club enters fresh ownership and comes out of administration at the end of the month. "Give me the tools to do the job. If I don't succeed I'll be the first person to expect to be relieved of my duties."

Murdoch remains optimistic that his young bucks can excite North Bucks, even though half the 4,800 crowd had travelled from Wearside. "It's more than we were getting at Selhurst Park. I'm positive we can build a vibrant club here.''

Sunderland, of course, were a power in the land when Wimbledon's adopted city was a collection of fields and farms. Their manager, Mick McCarthy, insists they are not yet ready to settle for a play-off spot. "Who knows what might happen? Look how Wolves got caught two years ago when they looked clear. Don't forget that the top two, Norwich and West Brom, still have to come to us.''

The first-half was in stoppage time before Sunderland translated their dominance into a goal. From a corner by Matt Piper, Julio Arca's miscued shot was diverted in by the head of Stewart.

However, Sunderland's body language increasingly spoke of their exertions at Old Trafford, and Wimbledon equalised midway through the second half a minute later when Kamara hooked in Jermaine Darlington's cross.

McCarthy sent on Byfield, who promptly pounced for his third goal as a substitute since arriving from Rotherham in January. "My subs are on the bench to improve things,'' said McCarthy, "not to warm their arses.''

Wimbledon (4-4-2): Bevan; Oyedele (Small, 68), M Williams, Ntimban-Zeh, Lewington; Darlington, Chorley, G Smith, Puncheon; Mackie (Kamara, 57), Gray. Substitutes not used: Martin (gk), Gier, Harding.

Sunderland (4-4-2): Poom; D Williams, Breen, Bjorklund, McCartney; Piper (Thornton, 84), Robinson, Thirlwell, Arca; Kyle, Stewart (Byfield, 73). Substitutes not used: Myhre (gk), T Smith, Babb.

Referee: S Mathieson (Cheshire).

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