Johnson maintains Palace's momentum as Murdoch faces meltdown

Crystal Palace 3 Wimbledon 1
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The Independent Football

Rock bottom of the league, still locked in administration and players being sold on the cheap as if there were no tomorrow. How different to six months ago when Wimbledon's move to Milton Keynes was supposed to herald a new dawn and a fresh fan base.

On Saturday, the Dons returned to the ground they shared for 11 years with Crystal Palace but were hardly inspired by the experience, going down to their 21st league defeat of the season under the refreshingly candid Stuart Murdoch who must have one of the least enviable jobs in football but is trying his best to see his way through all the turmoil.

Murdoch hardly knows from one day to the next which players will turn up for training as the administrators continue to make the decisions off the pitch. "Sometimes I feel like the rug is being pulled from under my feet," he said. "We lost four players at the start of the season and four more over the last four weeks and we should have got more money for all of them. The future is bleak but I'm not going to roll over and die. I'll do the job to the best of my ability as long as I'm allowed to. Besides, I don't have another job to walk into."

One of those players, centre-half Mikele Leigertwood, was sold to Palace of all teams just 24 hours before Saturday's game. He signed too late to play but will find life far more encouraging at Selhurst Park.

The Eagles seem to be on the rise under the manager, Iain Dowie, and their latest victory, secured with two sublime strikes from Andy Johnson and an angled shot off the post from Danny Granville, made it four wins in five since Dowie arrived. "The players have adapted well to the regime I have put in place," he said. "It's about planning each week's work and a lot of one-to-one stuff."

The match was delayed for 45 minutes after high winds made two stands at Selhurst Park unsafe but when play did start Wimbledon found themselves weathering a storm of a different kind against their ex-landlords. They worked hard, as hard as Palace in fact, but simply didn't have the quality.

Ironically, AFC Wimbledon, still regarded by most fans as the only true Dons, are going from strength to strength at the top of the Seagrave Haulage Combined Counties League and are a shoe-in for promotion to the Ryman League.

Last season, AFC's average crowd at Kingsmeadow, the ground they bought from Kingstonian, was over 3,000, not bad for a league several divisions below the Conference.

Their co-founder, Ivor Heller, remains totally dismissive of the "other" Wimbledon. "They've stolen our name and league place and taken them to Milton Keynes," he said. "We call them Franchise FC. Everyone knows we're the real Wimbledon."

Goals: Johnson (32) 1-0; McAnuff (50) 1-1; Granville (59) 2-1; Johnson (89) 3-1.

Crystal Palace (4-4-2): Berthelin; Granville, Butterfield, Popovic, Shipperley; Riihilahti, Hughes, Hudson, Gray; Johnson, Routledge. Substitutes Not Used: Symons, Freedman, Derry, Black, Borrowdale.

Wimbledon (4-4-2): Banks; Hawkins (McKoy, 68), Small, Mackie, Chorley; Herzig, McAnuff, Lewington, Gier; Holdsworth (Gordon, 60), Darlington (Kamara, 76). Substitutes Not Used: Worgan (gk), Gray.

Referee: K Hill (Hertfordshire).

Booked: Palace: Riihilahti. Wimbledon: Darlington, Herzig.

Man of the match: Andy Johnson.

Attendance: 20,552.

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