Hazy, crazy days of Wimbledon

Chelsea 2 Minto 9, Vialli 84 (pen) Wimbledon 4 Earle 4, Ardle y 16, Gayle 64, Ekoku 78 Attendance: 28,020
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The Independent Online
Who said the Premiership had destroyed the hopes of the underdog? Just about everyone apart from the mongrels of Wimbledon, who have turned themselves into a still tough and resilient but not unattractive side. Yesterday, at Stamford Bridge, they moved impressively and deservedly into second place, achieving a club record of seven consecutive victories.

Their manager, Joe Kinnear, warned afterwards: "There could be an awful lot of banana skins round the corner." But Wimbledon are going to enjoy the fruits of much labour on a small budget. They began yesterday two points ahead of Chelsea - which in itself was quite something considering the comparative investments - and close on the well-heeled Manchester United, Liverpool, Arsenal and Newcastle. This, when combined with the fact that Blackburn were bottom, was a delightful rejoinder to the accepted notion that money means everything. Not only that, they entertain as well as upset.

And upset Chelsea they certainly did as early as the fourth minute, when a long throw from Vinnie Jones was mysteriously allowed to bounce in the goal area. Robbie Earle headed inside the far post. Chelsea suffered from surprise rather than the deep shock that came later. Only five minutes afterwards, and after being awarded a free kick on the edge of the Wimbledon penalty area, Roberto Di Matteo laid the ball off to Scott Minto who rapped his shot past the wall for his first goal for the club.

Hardly had the crowd settled back to congratulate themselves on already getting their money's worth than, in the 15th minute, Eddie Newton, playing his first match for Chelsea since February, forfeited possession what seemed to be a safe 35 yards from goal. Far from it. Neal Ardley took advantage - and how. From that same distance, he speculated on a shot that took a slight deflection. Kevin Hitchcock, who had been totally deceived for the first goal, now lost sight of the ball somewhere on its passage. It slewed past him as he moved the wrong way.

Ruud Gullit brought himself on after 54 minutes for his first appearance this season, following another knee operation.

He had been prompted into action by seeing Efan Ekoku come dangerously close to lobbing an easy goal over Hitchcock who, this time, managed to do the right thing, touching the ball away.

Gullit's influence and rare ball control immediately benefited Chelsea. Drifting out to the right wing, he sent a centre gliding over the goalmouth to Gianluca Vialli who was falling back and, as a result, narrowly lost the chance. It was a damning miss.

A sign of Chelsea's worry came when they made prolonged appeals for a penalty as Dean Blackwell unbalanced Dan Petrescu. But David Elleray, the experienced referee, was unimpressed. Wimbledon quickly regathered, and when Gayle chested down a long downfield ball, Frank Leboeuf - his head bandaged and feet seemingly bound together - was left baffled as the big forward turned quickly and shot in Wimbledon's third.

Chelsea's defence became increasingly vulnerable and Ekoku ever more dangerous, as he emphasised after 75 minutes when Leboeuf was again left struggling. Ekoku slipped a shot from just inside the penalty area in off the far post, and Wimbledon thought that if Coventry could snatch a goal at Highbury they might even finish the day as League leaders. Then Kenny Cunningham brought down Vialli.

This time the referee agreed that it was a penalty and, though Neil Sullivan managed to push Vialli's penalty into the air and catch it again, the ball had crossed the line. So, as Arsenal held on to go top, Wimbledon's superb victory was not quite crowned with the laurels of leadership. But how they will celebrate looking down on the rich and famous.