New boy holds Cort as cavalier runs out of gas

Newcastle United 1 Wimbledon 3
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Kenny Dalglish was left playing the Baldrick role after a performance that bore all the ham-fisted, halting hallmarks of a Before the Lord Mayor's Show.

How, he was asked, would he make sure his bumbling black and white minstrels get it right on the big night? "Try to play 15 and see if we can get away with it," came the swift reply.

If Newcastle are as ponderous on their Champions' League opening night against Barcelona as they were on Saturday the big cat Catalans can expect to feast on a glut of goals served on a silver platter. As Dalglish lamented: "We contributed as much to our own downfall as Wimbledon did. Two set pieces and bad defending gave them three goals."

The thought could hardly have escaped Jose Mourinho, the Barca spy dispatched to the Toon Army camp, of how the pounds 18m Rivaldo, the pounds 13m Sonny Anderson or the priceless Ivan de la Pena might exploit such hospitality. Carl Cort and Chris Perry, both price-less products of the Wimbledon workhouse, merely had to nod upon arrival at the Newcastle six-yard box to get their side ahead.

Cort did so in the second minute of his full debut as a Don, courtesy of Neil Ardley's clipped right-wing cross and Philippe Albert's untimely turn of the back. Perry could hardly believe his luck too, as the statuesque Warren Barton allowed him to regain the lead from Alan Kimble's right- wing corner - the central defender's second goal in 103 league appearances.

The third Wimbledon goal was equally symptomatic of the Magpies' malaise. Alessandro Pistone was made to look like a hapless Sunday league stopper as Efan Ekoku twisted him one way and then the other before firing his scoring delivery.

Since Newcastle reached their eight-day nadir in March, with their 4- 3 defeat at Liverpool and their 3-0 loss in Monaco, the case for their defence had tangibly strengthened. They finished last season with four clean sheets and looked solid in the embryonic stages of this campaign.

The lapse into old cavalier ways can be traced to the enforced withdrawal of Stuart Pearce during the return leg of Newcastle's Champions' League qualifying tie with Croatia Zagreb. The Psycho analysis is that the hamstrung Pearce is expected to recover in time to face Barcelona and Newcastle clearly need not merely his galvanising back-three presence but also to revert to the wing-back formation which gave them their flying start to the season.

The return of the suspended David Batty will help to restore the former order and Faustino Asprilla is certain to lead the forward line from the first whistle after being restricted to a 25-minute cameo on Saturday, having arrived from Venezuela only an hour before kick off.

That the Colombian had been one of 12 players on international duty last week hardly helped, though Dalglish was loathe to use it as an excuse. "I wouldn't have thought the lads being away would have affected their preparation for this game," the Newcastle manager maintained.

"I wouldn't have thought Barcelona coming up next Wednesday would have affected anybody either," he added.

While Dalglish was wondering whatever happened to his likely lads, Joe Kinnear was savouring his first success of the season. "They don't come much sweeter," the Wimbledon manager said, drawing satisfaction from evidence of another first-class graduate from his home-produced finishing school.

Cort, at 19, was a veteran of just one substitute appearance. His first full game for Wimbledon could hardly have been a more impressive one as he forged a promising attacking partnership with the razor-sharp Ekoku.

"One of the best debuts I've ever seen," Kinnear enthused. "Awesome."

Every Don has its day. Now the Magpies must rise to their big night.

Goals: Cort (2) 0-1; Barton (31) 1-1; Perry (58) 1-2; Ekoku (75).

Newcastle United (4-4-2): Watson, Pistone, Albert, Beresford; Gillespie (Ketsbaia, 65), Barton (Asprilla, 65), Lee, Barnes; Tomasson, Rush. Substitutes not used: Hislop (gk), Peacock, A Hughes.

Wimbledon (4-4-2): Sullivan; Cunningham, Blackwell, Perry, Kimble; Ardley (Castledine, 41) Jones, C Hughes, Gayle (Thatcher, 64); Ekoku, Cort. Substitutes not used: Heald (gk), Clarke, Euell.

Referee: M Reed (Birmingham). Bookings: Newcastle: Pistone. Wimbledon: C Hughes, Gayle.

Attendance: 36,526. Man of the match: Ekoku.