Rehearsal reveals little of the plot

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The Independent Online
Wimbledon 1 Chelsea 1

"Shades of Alan Cork there," an experienced Wimbledon watcher said as Ruud Gullit dribbled round three players before blasting another shot just wide at Selhurst Park on Saturday.

The lighthearted nature of that remark was reflected in a match that both sides could have probably done without. Dress rehearsals are not usually welcome once the season has started, but that was more or less what it amounted to, with the teams due to meet again in the quarter-finals of the FA Cup.

There were understudies aplenty: despite Wimbledon's relegation concerns and Chelsea's Uefa Cup aspirations, such is the excitement of the FA Cup neither manager was prepared to field his strongest XI for the League encounter. Dean Holdsworth of Wimbledon, and Chelsea's Peacock, Spencer and Lee should all be back this Saturday.

Gullit and Vinnie Jones were on the same pitch for the first time since the latter's sending off and subsequent fine for questioning the Dutchman's integrity, but not even that was enough to inject any real passion into the proceedings.

All the meaningful action was compressed into a 15-minute period leading up to half-time. Furlong began it by hitting the bar when he might have done better; three minutes later, his header from a free kick by Dennis Wise put Chelsea in front.

Within two minutes the score was level. Gullit galloped half the length of the field but Chelsea lost possession and Marcus Gayle picked up the loose ball. He, in harsh comparison to Gullit, lolloped back to the other end before putting in a clever cross which Steve Clarke diverted past his own keeper.

On the stroke of half-time Wise might have altered the story after more good work by Furlong, but, with Neil Sullivan stranded, the Chelsea captain lifted his shot over an open goal. The plot failed to thicken in the second half, but the next episode might reveal all.

Goals: Furlong (35) 0-1; S Clarke (og 37) 1-1.

Wimbledon (4-3-3): Sullivan; Cunningham, Blackwell, Perry, Kimble; Jones, Earle, Leonhardsen; Goodman (A Clarke, 84), Ekoku, Gayle. Substitutes not used: Thorn, Euell.

Chelsea (3-2-3-2): Hitchcock; Duberry, S Clarke, Johnsen (Peacock, 82); Petrescu, Phelan; Wise, Spackman, Gullit; Hughes, Furlong. Substitutes not used: Spencer, Kharin (gk).

Referee: P Jones (Loughborough).

Booking: Wimbledon: Leonhardsen.

Man of the match: Gullit.

Attendance: 17,048.