Kinnear's reformed characters

Derby County 0 Wimbledon 2
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The Independent Online
Joe Kinnear paused for a moment of mental arithmetic. "You know, I think we have something like eight players going away on international duty at senior and Under-21 level," he said. "Our place will be empty next week."

It was, he emphasised, one of many good things happening to his Wimbledon side, five straight Premiership wins being the most significant. Things that were bringing the club respectability. Things that, as Kinnear remarked last week, tongue firmly in cheek, were "damaging our image".

Wimbledon's image is not as it was. They still love to be known as the Crazy Gang. But they like also to be known now as a decent, worthy team. These days, they even have a good disciplinary record. No wonder Kinnear glows with pride.

He has every right to do so. The team is the product of his two best attributes, half home-grown, half plucked from elsewhere by the shrewdest talent-spotter in the marketplace. The latest manager of the month award is in the bag. Given the odds that have been stacked against him, he ought to be manager of the decade.

Here the damage to Derby's unbeaten home League record - one that had spanned almost 13 months - was started by Robbie Earle, a snip at pounds 775,000, and completed by Marcus Gayle, who cost pounds 250,000.

The creative drive of Neil Ardley, aged 24, whose clever skills made the opening goal, cost nothing. So too did the rock-solid qualities of Chris Perry, 21, and Brian McAllister, 24 and newly summoned to the Scotland squad, who formed a central defensive barrier Derby's poorest performance of the season could not penetrate. The latter, recovered from the injury problems that restricted him to two games only last season, was particularly impressive.

Only Vinnie Jones remains from the Wimbledon of old, and though his dismissal against Tottenham and his verbal spat with Gary Lineker might suggest otherwise, even for him the mood is changing. Wearing responsibility on his sleeve in the form of the captain's armband, and with a public admonishment from Kinnear to ponder, he confessed that he may have seen the light.

"What happened at Tottenham brought it home to me," he said. "I was man of the match, but I ended up being sent off. These young lads in the team look up to me, they come to me with their problems. And I did think, `what kind of an example is that for them?'"

Whether, at 30, Jones can really reform himself remains to be seen, but for Wimbledon in general, change has already happened. Soon, now the whispers of relegation have been silenced, Sam Hammam, the club's owner, will be talking about Europe. Perhaps this year it will happen.

Goals: Earle (49) 0-1; Gayle (70) 0-2.

Derby County (3-4-1-2): Hoult; Rowett (Carsley, 18), Stimac, Carbon; Laursen, Dailly, D Powell (Simpson, 72), C Powell; Asanovic (Gabbiadini, 78); Ward, Sturridge. Substitutes not used: Van der Laan, Quy (gk).

Wimbledon (4-4-2): Sullivan; Cunningham, Perry, McAllister, Kimble; Ardley, Jones, Earle, Leonhardsen (Blackwell, 89); Ekoku (Harford, 89), Gayle. Substitutes not used: Heald (gk), Clarke, Fear.

Referee: A B Wilkie (Chester-le-Street).

Bookings: Derby Rowett, Stimac; Wimbledon Earle, Cunningham.

Man of the match: McAllister.

Attendance: 17,022.