Wimbledon run grinds to a halt

Aston Villa 5 Wimbledon 0
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Wimbledon's extraordinary unbeaten run, which had reached 19 matches stretching back to August, was shattered yesterday by an Aston Villa side who will enter Christmas as championship challengers themselves on the back of a fifth consecutive victory.

Two years ago Wimbledon had lost 7-1 at Villa Park, their heaviest defeat under Joe Kinnear. They returned knowing that three points would leave them trailing Liverpool on goal difference alone, only to depart somewhat fortunate not to have lost by the same margin. At least one of three "goals" Villa had disallowed would have stood but for the intervention of an over- zealous referee's assistant.

Their first win over one of the top six lifted Brian Little's side into fourth place in the Premiership, the position in which they finished last May. It also avenged a 1-0 set-back at Selhurst Park last month, when Wimbledon broke their grip on the Coca-Cola Cup, and means that Liverpool will go five points clear if they win at Newcastle tonight.

Once they had gone in front shortly before half-time, Villa appeared almost to be able to score at will. Dwight Yorke was the Dons' tormentor- in-chief, taking his tally to 11 goals in 12 games by starting and finishing the spree. For once he had excellent back up from the striker Little sought to off-load to the Italian club Perugia a month ago, Savo Milosevic, who netted once and will claim another.

For Villa it was the perfect start to a six-match sequence which, since it includes trips to Highbury, Old Trafford and Anfield, should reveal much about whether they are equipped to take the title for the first time since 1981. Though it ended in a rout, neither goalkeeper had made a save until Villa scored seven minutes before the interval.

Until then Wimbledon, pulling eight men behind the ball at every opportunity, looked perfectly capable of grinding out a goalless draw or even poaching the points on the break. Villa, however, tasted blood when Yorke's close range shot was wrongly ruled out for off-side, and within 40 seconds they were gorging themselves.

Following a goal-kick by Neil Sullivan, Kenny Cunningham's back-pass was badly under-hit. Yorke, who might have been excused had he been sulking about the injustice of the decision, had already anticipated the mistake. For just outside the 18-yard area he stroked the ball through the legs of the advancing keeper.

Within four minutes further errors enabled Villa to double their lead. Milosevic, pouncing on Chris Perry's miscued back-header, should still have been intercepted by Dean Blackwell. The latter missed the ball and also failed in his attempt to scythe down the Serb, who stabbed in his third goal of the season.

Steve Staunton, whose range of passing from the centre of defence would put many a playmaker to shame, made the third goal just after the hour. His cross, cunningly curled away from goal, was met by Milosevic, whose shot was parried by Sullivan. Ian Taylor dived headlong to double his tally for the campaign.

Things went from bad to worse for Wimbledon, whose strategy clearly did not allow for having to come from behind. With Yorke and Milosevic dragging their inexperienced defenders all over the place, Andy Townsend took a scalpel to the heart of their rearguard with 15 minutes remaining. Milosevic took over his run, like a sprinter in a relay, and saw his shot drift behind Sullivan's grasp after deflecting off Blackwell.

Villa were saving the best for last. Taylor played the penultimate pass in a fine build-up by finding the substitute, Sasa Curcic, wide on the right. As his cross arrowed in, hard and low to the near post, Yorke stole ahead of Blackwell to flick the ball deftly past Sullivan and complete Wimbledon's worst defeat since going down 6-1 at Newcastle 14 months ago.

Little, who described Villa as "a pretty good team", felt that Milosevic's improvement since his on-off transfer had made all the difference. Whether the Yugoslav international can maintain this level of support for Yorke remains to be seen.

Kinnear regarded the result as a blip, or a "blimp" as he put it, adding defiantly: "If I'd told people that by Christmas Wimbledon could have led the table with Liverpool, they'd have carried me off to the nut house.

"People will say what a great side Villa are, yet they're a point behind us. One defeat in 20 games can't be bad."

Goals: Yorke (38) 1-0; Milosevic (42) 2-0; Taylor (61) 3-0; Blackwell og (75) 4-0; Yorke (86) 5-0.

Aston Villa (3-5-2): Bosnich; Ehiogu, Staunton (Tiler, 74), Scimeca; Nelson, Draper (Curcic, 80), Taylor, Townsend, Wright; Yorke, Milosevic. Substitutes not used: Joachim, Johnson, Rachel (gk).

Wimbledon (4-4-2): Sullivan; Cunningham (Holdsworth, 67), Perry (McAllister, 84), Blackwell, Kimble; Ardley, Earle, Jones, Leonhardsen; Ekoku, Gayle. Substitutes not used: Harford, Fear, Murphy (gk).

Referee: S Dunn (Bristol).

Bookings: Villa Curcic. Wimbledon Kimble.

Man of the match: Yorke.

Attendance: 28,875.