Lack of strike force costs Wimbledon dear

 

Wimbledon finished this match with four strikers and would probably not have scored had they used nine. The failure of their late barrage to produce a goal must have convinced even the least superstitious home supporter that this defeat was down to the stars.

After wasting six headed chances to equalise Chris Sutton's early goal Wimbledon knew the fates were against them, but this result was not all down to ill luck.

Whereas Blackburn have acquired such luminaries as Martin Dahlin and Stephane Henchoz since the end of last season, Wimbledon have lost two of their guiding stars. Dean Holdsworth's £3.5 million move to Bolton on Thursday followed the more significant summer departure of Oyvind Leonhardsen to Liverpool for a similar fee.

They desperately missed Leonhardsen's energy and invention in midfield and would probably have benefited from Holdsworth's presence too: his goal separated the sides in the corresponding fixture last year.

Saturday's result offered a symbolic reminder of how the teams' fortunes have changed since then. After December's game Wimbledon occupied third place in the Premiership and Blackburn were stuck in the relegation mire. Ten months on the tables have literally turned.

Tipped for once to avoid the drop, Wimbledon are arguably in their most vulnerable position since Joe Kinnear took over in January 1992. After three home defeats in the league the manager is anticipating a struggle.

"We know it's going to be extremely hard for us to stay up," Kinnear said, "but I'm sure other teams are going to find it just as hard as us. I think there will be teams worse off than us at the end."

Wimbledon's menace at set plays suggested he will probably be right, although wayward finishing cost them dear. After Jeff Kenna had cleared a Carl Cort effort off the line, a series of chances came and went. Vinnie Jones nodded wide when he should have scored and Ceri Hughes had a shot blocked by the goalkeeper's rear.

Sutton had shown the way with a superb goal in the sixth minute, seizing on Chris Perry's error to squeeze a shot between Neil Sullivan's legs at the near post.

Blackburn's manager Roy Hodgson lavished praise on his leading scorer afterwards but played down his side's championship chances, eminently sensible after home failures against Coventry and Leeds.

"Our aim is just to have a better year than last and to restabilise," he said. "Then we can see later in the season whether we have the capacity to be title contenders.

"I notice that none of the expert opinion has even mentioned us in terms of the championship," he added. Which must fill him with confidence that they may yet succeed.