New culture club still off-key

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The Independent Online

Wimbledon's new manager Terry Burton has promised "a change of culture" as the club adapt to the Nationwide League after 14 improbable years at the highest level. They could do with a change of luck, but will also need greater penetration in front of goal on the evidence of yesterday's uninspiring first game, in which a badly depleted side failed to prevail despite playing against 10 men for the final 33 minutes.

Wimbledon's new manager Terry Burton has promised "a change of culture" as the club adapt to the Nationwide League after 14 improbable years at the highest level. They could do with a change of luck, but will also need greater penetration in front of goal on the evidence of yesterday's uninspiring first game, in which a badly depleted side failed to prevail despite playing against 10 men for the final 33 minutes.

Tranmere, cup specialists who finished halfway in the division last time, were quite happy with their point after losing Sean Flynn for two bookable offences on an afternoon when Selhurst Park became a Premiership-free zone.

The home club tried to improve the atmosphere by packing - if that is the word - the crowd of 8,266 into three sides of the ground. But the attendance (less than half last season's average) was a graphic illustration of what their Norwegian chairman, Bjorn Gjelsten, called "a traumatic loss of revenue" likely to be sustained below stairs even allowing for the parachute payments for relegated clubs.

So many players were missing that it was hardly the day on which to judge the new Wimbledon. John Hartson, the principal striker following Carl Cort's departure, was still paying the wages of sin following his sending off in the critical relegation game at Bradford last season and the injury listencompassed half a dozen players with Premiership experience, like the captain Kenny Cunningham, Robbie Earle, Jason Euell, Dean Blackwell, Andy Roberts and Michael Hughes.

Tranmere have lost the evergreen David Kelly and gained Stuart Barlow, who started on the bench, and the much-travelled Paul Rideout, returning to Merseyside after leaving Everton for sojourns in China and the United States. Despite using two players up alongside him much of the time, they carried little attacking threat in the first half and were fortunate not to concede the early goal that would have lifted the home team's morale after losing nine of last season's final 10 matches.

In the seventh minute Gareth Roberts' back-pass fell short of his goalkeeper John Achterberg, who must have been close to handling outside his area, and as striker Patrick Agyemang screwed the ball square, Neal Ardley miskicked 10 yards in front of an unguarded net. Ardley then floated a corner that was firmly met by Hermann Hreidarsson's head but cleared off the line.

Agyemang might have scored when Carl Leaburn dropped a cushioned header down to him, the teenager turning to shoot over the bar. A drive after half an hour by Wayne Allison was the visitors' first effort on target, and their prospects were not enhanced by losing midfielder Nick Henry around the same time with a nasty-looking facial injury after Damien Francis inadvertently turned into him.

The harsh sending off of Sean Flynn 13 minutes into the second half did not help either. Booked in the first half for unnecessary dissent towards a linesman, he received a second yellow card for bringing down Hreidarsson when a final warning would surely have sufficed.

Wimbledon had already continued to be the more dangerous. Ardley miscued again, trying to volley in Marcus Gayle's cross, but was unluckier with a header that dropped over the bar after Achterberg only prodded out Alan Kimble's centre. The goalkeeper did better to turn away a shot by Agyemang as Tranmere were forced deeper and deeper.

His team did not immediately settle for massed defence, however, leaving two forwards up and forcing Kelvin Davis to save well from the full-back Steve Yates before digging in to withstand the final fling.

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