Saints pass fitness test

Wimbledon 1 Euell 63 Southampton 2 Shipperley 9 74 Attendance: 7,982
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The Independent Online
WIMBLEDON'S manager Joe Kinnear had warned before this game that his team was "likely to be the only fit men I have available". But by the end of a match which had the intensity of a Cup tie in its final stages, Wimbledon had more casualties to contend with - their sixth Premiership defeat in a row, and the defender Scott Fitzgerald both sent and carried off, with what looked like knee injuries sustained in an aerial challenge which brought his second yellow card.

Southampton, for whom this was only the second Premiership win of the season, will take home not just the points but a conviction that they can continue to play passing football and survive. They were comfortably the better team in a rather tepid first half after Neil Shipperley's early goal - turning home Gordon Watson's cross inside the six-yard box - plainly did nothing for the home team's confidence.

Dean Holdsworth completely mis-hit a clear scoring chance after Richard Hall's mistake and, in the Dons' best move of the half, Marcus Gayle could only send his powerful header straight at Dave Beasant after Holdsworth's flick had set up Kenny Cunningham's cross.

The one certainty that sustains Wimbledon, and will do so again judged on their second-half performance, is that they will continue to unearth promising new players. Yesterday it was Jason Euell, promoted from the reserves into the number 34 shirt, a gangly teenager who produced a marvellous piece of athleticism to bring Wimbledon level midway through the second half. Gayle's knockdown looked to have missed the youngster but an acrobatic volley on the turn powered the ball past Beasant from 18 yards.

Wimbledon had deserved this, but Southampton knew that they had an unmissable chance to take advantage of a weakened side. And who better to do that than Matthew Le Tissier? Shaping to shoot, he instead slipped a short pass in for Shipperley to turn and fire low past Paul Heald.

The last 10 minutes were frantic - "anyone without passion in my team is on their way," warned the Saints' manager, Dave Merrington, afterwards - with Shipperley denied a hat-trick by Heald's close-range block, Euell foiled by Beasant, and Le Tissier only inches wide from 25 yards. But another goal from Southampton would have added insult to injuries.