Carbone adds Villa spark

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The Independent Online

Benito Carbone, the diminutive Italian whose long, dark hair is restrained by an Alice band, did his skilful and enthusiastic best to offer his new team, Aston Villa, a glimpse of wonderland, but Wimbledon's Colditz mentality in defence, combined with the excellence in goal of Neil Sullivan, just managed to keep them at bay.

Benito Carbone, the diminutive Italian whose long, dark hair is restrained by an Alice band, did his skilful and enthusiastic best to offer his new team, Aston Villa, a glimpse of wonderland, but Wimbledon's Colditz mentality in defence, combined with the excellence in goal of Neil Sullivan, just managed to keep them at bay.

Carbone, in dispute with Sheffield Wednesday and short of match fitness, has been recruited by Villa, in the words of the manager John Gregory, "to add spark in the last third of the pitch". He did that with much crowd-pleasing flair, despite running on empty for the last 20 minutes, and Gregory said: "If he continues to play like that we would like to be making his move to us permanent. He certainly set a standard that will be difficult to maintain."

In the end it was what Gregory termed his team's failings for the past month or so, domination without goals, which let a couple of precious points slip away. Certainly Wimbledon offered so little in attack that Robbie Earle's scoring header after 26 minutes, a gentle effort from Carl Cort's neat chip, was just about their only effort on target.

So ineffectual was John Hartson that he was taken off after only an hour, by which stage he had not even attracted the attention of that normally zealous official Uriah Rennie. It was 81 minutes before Mr Rennie reached for his first yellow card, brandished in the face of Gareth Barry. It was that sort of contest, full of commitment, a bit short on passion.

By the time Earle scored, Carbone could have done the same twice, had it not been for the alertness of Sullivan, the Scottish international goalkeeper. "Not good news for England," observed Wimbledon manager Egil Olsen wryly.

Villa needed only eight minutes to equalise, but then could have played all night without scoring another. The goal came when Carbone twice turned past Kenny Cunningham to deliver a perfect ball to the far post, where Dion Dublin's sharp downward header was too good even for Sullivan.

The closest the home side came to a winner was in the seconds immediately after half-time. Inevitably, it was the extrovert Carbone who laid on the opening with a cross which Dublin volleyed first time, only to see Sullivan acrobatically turn it over. When Dublin returned the compliment, backheeling Carbone clear inside the penalty area, the Italian's finishing was not so clinical as his passing and the shot flew an inch or two wide.

Wimbledon's defence, beautifully marshalled by Ben Thatcher and the Icelander Hermann Hreidarsson, kept most of Villa's thrusts at a manageable distance from Sullivan, who nevertheless had to repel a Lee Hendrie shot and clutch another Dublin header one-handed on the line.

Villa's last opportunity ebbed away when Hendrie's control let him down and he trod on the ball when he should have turned and shot from close range.

"We totally dominated in the second half but we aren't being ruthless enough," said Gregory. "Wimbledon had one chance and took it, we missed all of ours except one." The ever-honest Olsen agreed. "The result was much better for us than the performance. We haven't been too lucky earlier this season but today we were lucky."

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