Stubborn Wimbledon dig in for victory

Gillingham 1 Wimbledon 2
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The Independent Football

Wimbledon achieved only their second away win of the season at Priestfield Stadium yesterday, and it was not the product of good fortune but was, surprisingly, based on the work of defenders who hitherto had often been truly awful.

In spite of having a wardful of injured players and some suspensions to add to their problems, Gillingham had survived recent matches remarkably well. Indeed, after winning three of their previous four games, they were looking more optimistic than for some time - on the field, that is. Off it, their chairman, Paul Scally continues to worry about how to increase local interest.

He was so concerned about Wimbledon not being much of a draw yesterday, and bringing barely a minibus-load of supporters, that he offered some season-ticket-holders pairs of tickets to give away. Buy one, get two free has arrived in football.

At least those fans who paid saw a nearly full-strength side, with Rod Wallace returning to the attack supported by the versatile Nayron Nosworthy. The strikers must have anticipated a profitable afternoon against the division's most generous defence. They were so wrong.

Were it not for consistently roaming offside, Gillingham might have justified the hopes with early goals, but only Wallace came close, denied by a deflection from the former Gills keeper Steve Banks, who had missed nine matches through injury but had a wonderful game.

Wimbledon gained some confidence in getting through the first 20 minutes comparatively well, and when Wade Small made a smart run across the Gillingham penalty area his ensuing shot was only parried away by Jason Brown to Adam Nowland, who found the open target.

Gillingham's defence had not been pressured, but when they were pressed the mistakes were troubling. Wimbledon, on the other hand, had more composure under threat than anticipated but could do little to avoid suffering the 41st-minute equaliser that John Hills created with a short, high cross that saw Nosworthy escape attention and head in.

Encouraged, Gillingham dominated early in the second half but were frustrated by Banks, who blocked hefty shots from Wallace, Chris Hope and Danny Spiller. Wimbledon tried swift counterattacks, and from one in the 66th minute they outpaced and outwitted the home defence as Nowland played a long through-ball to Pat Agyemang, who drew Brown out from his goal before driving a shot inside the far post.

Andy Hessenthaler, the Gillingham player-coach, immediately sent himself on in an attempt to sort out his team's unexpected difficulties. He prompted, prodded and became his usual provocative self in an attempt to stop his players being "too nice to each other", but Wimbledon's usually fragile defence stubbornly held firm, with one last fine save by Banks from Wallace, and even the people in the free seats began to leave early, probably never to return.

Gillingham 1
Nosworthy 41

Wimbledon 2
Nowland 22, Agyemang 66

Half-time: 1-1 Attendance: 9,041