THE HISTORY OF WIMBLEDON FOOTBALL CLUB
2001
Saturday, 16 February 2002
Nationwide League Division 1
Selhurst Park
Attendance: 13,564
Ref: Paul Alcock
 
Wimbledon
Damien Francis
1 (1) - (0) 1
Crystal Palace
Clinton Morrison
31
Matt Clarke
4
Dean Austin
38
Curtis Fleming
Yellow 59 Subbed 89
26
Shaun Murphy
7
Hayden Mullins
2
Jamie Smith
Yellow 23
15
Aki Riihilahti
8
Simon Rodger
Subbed 61
55
Ade Akinbiyi
Subbed 60
9
Dougie Freeman
10
Clinton Morrison
Goal 80
--
11
Tommy Black
Sub ((55) 60)(55)
1
Aleksandrs Koliņko
24
Julian Gray
Sub ((8) 61)(8)
12
Gregg Berhalter
Sub ((38) 89)(38)
6
David Hopkin

Like actors turfed out of a hit soap opera, Wimbledon and Palace have found life tough since they were dropped from the Premiership.

So-called friends do not want to know any more - just 13,000 turned out for this most local of derbies - the tabloids no longer want pictures, and the fallen stars end up carving out a living in below-par productions like this uninspired adaptation of the The Lodger.

The similarity between landlord and tenant even extended to the poverty of their performances. Not even the worst repertory company in Britain could match the number of fluffed lines in Saturday's matinee, whether it be Palace's poor passing or Wimbledon's missed chances. Clinton Morrison's equaliser provided a rare moment of class on a B-movie afternoon.

For long periods both sides seemed intent on proving that this is the weakest First Division in years. But there the story of Palace and Wimbledon diverges. For Palace, despite all their faults and inconsistency, are still in a play-off position. And unlike Wimbledon they are able to maximise that position with money.

Since taking over as manager in December, Trevor Francis has spent £2.4m on Ade Akinbiyi and £1m on three defenders - Curtis Fleming, Kit Symons and Danny Granville, though the latter two were absent on Saturday, respectively injured and suspended. Francis is also reported to have bid £750,000 for the Portsmouth midfielder Shaun Derry.

Poor old Wimbledon, on the other hand, have not got two milk tokens to rub together. Their parachute payments following relegation from the Premiership stop at the end of this season and, having sold their best players, they are now having to get rid of their second best.

Long-servers such as Alan Kimble, Neal Ardley and Dean Blackwell are among a host of players who will be released by the debt-ridden club when their contracts run out. Increasingly the manager Terry Burton is turning to a promising crop of youngsters, though not even they are safe. Negotiations are ongoing with Spurs over the sale of the 18-year-old Lionel Morgan, who scored for England Under-19s in Thursday's 3-1 win over Germany.

On top of all this, the fight over whether to move the club to Milton Keynes or back to Plough Lane rumbles on. In the circumstances Burton's enduring enthusiasm for the job of Wimbledon manager is amazing; the fact that his team still retain a faint hope of making the play-offs astonishing.

With crucial games against Watford and Millwall coming up, and with Michael Hughes likely to be missing after sustaining an ankle injury, they knew they should have won this game given their grip on large parts of it and the gilt-edged chances they created.

But having gone ahead on seven minutes through Damien Francis' header, Wimbledon wasted their two best opportunities to extend that lead. First Ardley, from close-range and with plenty of time, headed the ball straight at Matt Clarke, who was able to tip it over. Then when Francis' fine through-ball released David Connolly free on goal, the striker tried to be too clever and bend the ball past Clarke with the outside of his foot but instead nearly hit the corner flag.

Not that the award for most astonishing miss went to a player in a blue shirt - well, he doesn't wear one now anyway. Akinbiyi left Leicester to try to escape his image as a misser of sitters. But he did little on Saturday to dispel the joke that the No55 he wears on his shirt represents his personal tally of misses for the season.

On 36 minutes Dougie Freedman teed him up with an inviting chance from about a yard out and the troubled striker missed the header completely. Perhaps he was surprised by Freedman's decision to pass rather than shoot but, when he was substituted on the hour, Akinbiyi gave the distinct impression of a man in need of a confidence tranfusion.

Palace eventually equalised 10 minutes from time when Morrison, linked with a move to Sunderland last week, clinically converted Tommy Black's through-pass for his 21st goal of the season.

Man of the match: Trond Andersen (Wimbledon).