Wimbledon's positive response
Thursday 17 April 1997
"Stay positive'' was Joe Kinnear's message to his Wimbledon players before this match. Easier said than done, four days after losing a second semi-final in the space of just over a month. However, his players responded to earn a win which bolstered their flagging hopes of a Uefa Cup place next season.
Kinnear revealed afterwards that he and his players had had a three-hour meeting during training the previous day, in the wake of Sunday's FA Cup semi-final defeat by Chelsea.
"It was a case of putting my arm around the players and speaking about the idea of making the last six games of the season like six Cup finals.
"I tried to use a bit of Irish kidology, telling them that, even though we had lost two semi-finals, we had done well to get there. I said it just might be that we could get in the back door to Europe - after all, we had seven straight wins earlier in the season."
Last night's win lifted them to within one place of the sixth spot which Kinnear believes would guarantee them a European place. "We had to win tonight to keep the season alive. We have got the disappointment out of our system and we have got two vital games coming up against Sheffield Wednesday on Saturday and Chelsea on Tuesday."
Kinnear had particular reason to be satisfied after his decision to pull off Vinnie Jones five minutes after half-time. The Wimbledon captain had already been booked for fouling Lee Bowyer, and seemed set for further trouble.
"Once I saw the red mist floating around, I made the decision," Kinnear said. Jones' replacement, Stewart Castledine, made sure of the points in the 72nd minute when he headed home Wimbledon's second from close range after a right wing cross by Neal Ardley.
Wimbledon were facing a Leeds defence which had kept nine clean sheets in their previous 12 Premiership games but they went ahead in the 18th minute when Dean Holdsworth, making the most of Efan Ekoku's absence with a broken wrist, dispossessed David Wetherall as the Leeds defender tried to shepherd the ball for a goal-kick, and scored from an acute angle.
Leeds should have had an equaliser after 51 minutes, but Lee Sharpe shot wastefully wide after Bowyer had put him clean through.
"It was a typical Wimbledon performance tonight," the Leeds manager, George Graham, said. "I told the players they were not going to lie down after their defeat in the semi-final. That's the type of spirit I've got to get back to Elland Road."
Wimbledon (4-4-2): Sullivan; Cunningham, Perry, McAllister, Kimble; Ardley, Fear, Jones (Castledine, 50), Leonhardsen; Gayle, Holdsworth. Substitutes not used: Heald (gk), Goodman, Reeves, Euell.
Leeds United (4-4-2): Martyn; Halle, Wetherall (Kelly, 73), Molenaar, Dorigo; Rush, Bowyer, Radebe, Sharpe (Laurent, 82); Wallace, Deane. Substitutes not used: Beeney (gk), Miller, Harte.
Referee: T Alcock (Surrey).
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