Devlin stands tall as wounded Dons fall away

Wimbledon 1 Watford 3
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The Independent Online

Winning so spectacularly at West Bromwich in midweek turned out, after all, to be a flash in the relegation pan down which Wimbledon seem increasingly certain to be flushed. This match, the nearest they will get this season to a local derby at their new Milton Keynes home, was wrenched from their grasp in a disastrous first half-hour when two players were lost to injury and two goals conceded to what their manager, Stuart Murdoch, criticised as poor defending.

As Murdoch said, when things go wrong they tend to get worse: "It's always your players who get carried off and not theirs." And when the club are in administration, the last thing needed is for an all-ticket match like this to fall 3,000 short of capacity. It was sad to see supporters of both teams being turned away because ticket sales had closed on Friday.

Still, there is apparently spirit aplenty at the new home. When Watford scored their first, through Paul Devlin, a group of Watford supporters who had somehow got into the home fans' end rejoiced boisterously. Pete Winkelman, head of the consortium which brought Wimbledon to the National Hockey Stadium, headed a group of bouncers who promptly ejected the visiting group from the ground. "You can't have Milton Keynes people suffering like that," said Winkelman afterwards.

However, there was no dodging the suffering caused, on a decidedly chilly day, by Wimbledon's failure to get the first win at their new home. Patrick Agyemang lasted only seven minutes before limping off, the victim of a knock on the knee in a tackle by a former Wimbledon stalwart, Neil Ardley, which was compounded by an ankle twisted in a fall.

Watford were in command before Devlin claimed his first goal since signing from Birmingham. Jamie Hand opened the home defence with a chipped pass to Danny Webber, whose instant shot was brilliantly turned aside by Paul Heald, but only as far as Devlin, who struck it in from an angle. In trying to block the goal Peter Hawkins damaged an ankle and was taken off on a stretcher.

Ten minutes later, Watford were two up. Jack Smith and Paolo Vernazza combined to send Devlin to the byline for a cross to which Webber applied his head before Heald could apply a fist. To complete a miserable 45 minutes, Wimbledon captain Nigel Reo-Coker and Mikele Leigert- wood were shown yellow cards.

Leigertwood made swift amends, getting one back in the opening minute of the second half when he headed home Wade Small's free-kick. With the wind behind them, Wimbledon pinned Watford back for a while and the 19-year-old Lenny Pidgeley, on loan from Chelsea, had his busiest spell.

It was not long, however, before Watford sealed victory with a third goal. Ardley's corner was misheaded by Wimbledon's German defender, Nico Herzig, and though Heald managed to nudge the ball against the bar, it fell for Scott Fitzgerald, who claimed his sixth goal in seven games for Watford.

It might have been even worse. Jobi McAnuff saw his shot on the turn cleared off the line by Hand, but Wimbledon were well beaten. At least Murdoch's sense of humour has not deserted him. "I think we just can't play on Saturdays," he said.

Wimbledon 1
Leigertwood 49

Watford 3
Devlin 22, Webber 33, Fitzgerald 67

Half-time: 0-2 Attendance: 6,115