Wimbledon spirit prevails

 

THEY fought to the end to get a draw on Saturday and wills give little away on their return to Old Trafford for Wednesday's crucial top of the table league game. But that does not mean Wimbledon cannot also be generous to Manchester United.

Wednesday's match was originally scheduled for March 29th before Wimbledon agreed to bring it forward to help clear space around United's Champions League quarter final against Porto.

As it happens, the Crazy Gang's friendly gesture has become an addition to their fixture congestion caused by a League Cup semi final, the rearrangement of several snowed off league games and now an FA Cup replay.

But Joe Kinnear remains magnanimous. "In hindsight, Wednesday night is a fixture we could well have done without," he says, "but we agreed to it because we want; United to win the Champions Cup."

It is Wimbledon's ethos typified everyone contributing to the greater cause, a belief system which has lifted the team to such heights that they remain the only Premiership team still in with a shout in all three domestic competitions.

But with success comes a price. Everyone is so used to Wimbledon holding their own at the highest level that the one time kings of the upset must now accept that a last gasp draw at Manchester United merely rates second billing in the FA Cup's theatre of dreams. They were upstaged by the heroics of Wrexham and Woking, the woe of West Ham and even the wonder goal by Waddle.

But Wimbledon will not mind being seen as part of the mainstream. It is a compliment to their progress which this season embraces just two defeats in their last 27 games. The team's chances of extending that run on Wednesday may well depend on the state of United's injury list, which on Saturday deprived she cup holders of the central defenders Ronny Johnsen, David May and Gary Pallister plus the talismanic David Beckham.

The last two are the most likely to return but on Saturday United's line up looked like one of those sides they put out in the League Cup, with Michael Clegg and Chris Casper, lesser known members of the Youth Cup winning class of 92, in defence, alongside fringe members in Brian McClair and Karel Poborsky.

Alex Ferguson tilted the team further by playing Poborsky up front alongside Eric Cantona and Ryan, Giggs, with Andy Cole and the flustruck Ole Gunnar Solskjaer left on the bench.

As a result of all this disruption United's passing too often suffered from poor communication, with Giggs regularly at fault. And though Clegg - a dead ringer for Gary Neville - and Casper played reasonably well, Roy Keane, at sweeper, needed to be at his most imperious to retain some semblance of impregnability. Even then Wimbledon carved out enough chances to have inflicted on United their first FA Cup defeat since the 1995 final.

United too had their moments though either poor finishing, the excellent Neil Sullivan, or the referee denied them, the latter when declining to give a penalty after the Wimbledon goalkeeper felled Poborsky, right on the edge of the area.

But just as a 0-0 draw seemed likely, we got a 1-1 draw instead. On 90 minutes Denis Irwin's deep run and Cantona's chip set up Paul Scholes for a header to put United ahead.

Robbie Earle was at fault, thee midfielder's hesitancy in coming out with the offside trap playing the United player onside. But two minutes later Earle atoned and at same time personified what Kinnear described as "the true Wimbledon spirit: we never give up. It's what we're all about."

Solskjaer needlessly fouled Kenny Cunningham and from Alan Kimble's free kick Earle rose above United's vertically challenged defence to head past a badly positioned Peter Schmeichel.

And so Wimbledon earned a replay at home. Well, sort of home, around 20,000 southern based United fans will take over Selhurst Park for the game. Poor old Wimbledon, life is never easy.