Wimbledon sound out a warning

Chelsea 2 Wimbledon 4
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The Independent Online
So Chelsea have gone the way of several others before them - six to be precise, as this victory gave Wimbledon a club record of seven in a row. More than any of their other performances, this one will register in the calculating minds of Old Trafford, St James' Park and Anfield, where fixture lists will have been anxiously scanned to see when they next have to play Wimbledon.

Before and after the match Ruud Gullit was full of praise for Wimbledon, declaring Joe Kinnear's side to be "good for the Premiership" because they are so different. He also stated that he knew what Wimbledon were about and had no intention of changing Chelsea's tactics.

It would be wrong to criticise Chelsea for attempting to play to their strengths, as Wimbledon invariably do, but, having seen other good footballing sides like Everton and Tottenham trying to pass their way around the same problem with no success, perhaps Chelsea would have done better to adapt their style for one game - always assuming they have the personnel to do it.

Wimbledon are good for the Premiership, not only because they are different but because they will nearly always expose the pretentious. They are extremely sound in defence and, given half a chance, Robbie Earle, Efan Ekoku and Marcus Gayle will score goals - as they all did on Saturday.

Gayle, in particular, was a problem throughout for Steve Clarke. Having spent much of this season on the left of midfield, he was preferred to Dean Holdsworth in attack for this match and, if Holdsworth still harbours the belief that he is too good for Wimbledon, then watching Gayle here will have had him squirming on the bench.

As usual Wimbledon were happy to leave the sophisticated stuff to their opponents. But with Mark Hughes and Gianluca Vialli unable to complement each other in attack, Eddie Newton's patient promptings from midfield rarely led anywhere, their goals coming from a free-kick and a belated penalty.

Wimbledon, by contrast, seemed to score just about every time they tried. There was something of a fluke about each of their first-half goals: Vinnie Jones' long throw bouncing up over everyone like a rubber ball for Earle to nod in at the far post and Neal Ardley's speculative long range shot taking a deflection on its way past Kevin Hitchcock.

In challenging Earle for the first goal, Franck Leboeuf spent the rest of the afternoon with a nasty-looking egg-shaped "bermp" on his forehead, and the Frenchman was certainly at fault for Wimbledon's fourth, charging in at Ekoku who skipped past him before shooting precisely beyond Hitchcock.

But Gayle's goal preceding it was a gem. Receiving Dean Blackwell's clearance with his back to goal, he realised Clarke was giving him room to turn, so he did just that before slipping the ball through the Chelsea defender's legs and producing an accurate, powerful left-foot shot with the minimum of back lift.

Goals: Earle (4) 0-1; Minto (10) 1-1; Ardley (16) 1-2; Gayle (64) 1-3; Ekoku (77) 1-4; Vialli (pen, 85) 2-4.

Chelsea (3-5-2): Hitchcock; Johnsen, Leboeuf, Clarke; Petrescu, Burley (Spencer, 55), Newton (Wise, 77), Di Matteo, Minto (Gullit, 55); Hughes, Vialli. Substitutes not used: Lee, Grodas (gk).

Wimbledon (4-4-2): Sullivan; Cunningham, Blackwell, Perry, Kimble; Ardley, Jones, Earle, Leonhardsen; Ekoku (Holdsworth, 90), Gayle (Fear, 90). Substitutes not used: Reeves, Harford, Heald (gk).

Referee: D Elleray (Harrow).

Bookings: Chelsea: Leboeuf, Spencer.

Man of the match: Gayle.

Attendance: 28,020.

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