Wimbledon gifts go West Ham's way

 

An early moment of madness, triggering the fastest sending-off of the Premiership season, and a host of mistakes left Wimbledon in a wintry blunderland and ruing a week of truly black farce.

After the floodlight fiasco of last Monday night, Wimbledon's hope of a bright farewell to 1997 was virtually extinguished in the third minute when their defender, Ben Thatcher, was dismissed by Paul Durkin for elbowing West Ham's striker, Paul Kitson, in the face. Durkin had whistled for offside when the two men jostled each other and Kitson fell to the ground. It was Thatcher's first sending off in domestic football after being dismissed in Italy for the England under-21s in October. Wimbledon's manager Joe Kinnear said: "He says he didn't make any contact and when he asked the ref why, he told him to go away. He's a great kid and has great potential - he'll end up playing for England. This might be his Achilles heel; he's a very aggressive player. It's something I may have to curb."

West Ham's manager, Harry Redknapp, had no doubt about the correctness of Durkin's decision but praised Wimbledon's bravery. "Wimbledon never give up. They got in amongst us and worked very hard."

After the dismissal Wimbledon effectively gambled on three defenders, but Kinnear can hardly be blamed for the failure: the fault lay with Alan Kimble and Kenny Cunningham, whose errors gifted West Ham both of their goals.

When Frank Lampard broke through just after the half-hour his pass to John Hartson was miscued. Kimble reached the ball first and then, bizarrely, drove low past the bemused Neil Sullivan from 10 yards.

In the 54th minute Cunningham's concentration faltered. His lapse cut short Wimbledon's second-half surge fuelled by the replacement of the captain, Vinnie Jones, with an attacker, Andy Clarke. Rio Ferdinand sent a routine ball down the left flank and Cunningham mistimed his header to send Kitson on his way to the goal.

Ultimately, West Ham entered into the charitable spirit, their defence opening up for Staale Solbakken to volley his first Wimbledon goal at the death.

Redknapp mocked reports linking Ferdinand with a move to Manchester United under a paynow-play-later deal that would take the defender to Old Trafford in two years: "Let's face it: he's only got four years to go on his contract with us. If he can't get into a team now I don't know what team that is," said Redknapp.

Wimbledon: Sullivan, Cunningham, Kimble, Jones (Clarke 46), Blackwell, Thatcher, Earle, Solbakken, Gayle (Cort 32), M. Hughes, Ardley. Subs not used: C Hughes, Heald, Reeves. Sent off: Thatcher (2). Goals: Solbakken 90.

West Ham: Forrest, Breacker, Unsworth, Kitson, Hartson, Lomas, Ferdinand, Lazaridis, Lampard, Pearce, Impey. Subs not used: Potts, Rowland, Abou, Alves, Lama. Goals: Kimble 31 og, Kitson 54.

Referee: P Durkin (Portland).