Everton v Wimbledon

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FA Carling Premiership 96/97 - Game 20
Saturday 28 December 1996
Goodison Park, Merseyside

Result: Everton (1) 1 - Wimbledon (0) 3
Stuart(23); Ekoku(59) Leonhardsen(70) Gayle(76).

Everton: Southall (c), Barrett, Unsworth, Rideout (73 Branch), Hottiger, Stuart, Ebbrell (80 Hills), Grant, Speed, Barmby, Ferguson
Booked: Rideout.
Subs Not Used: Gerrard, Allen, Limpar. Unavailable: Hinchcliffe, Watson, Short, Parkinson, O'Connor (injured). Kanchelskis (flu).

Wimbledon: Sullivan, Cunningham, Kimble, Jones, Blackwell, Leonhardsen, Ekoku, Gayle, McAllister, Ardley, Jupp
Subs Not Used: Reeves, Harford, Clarke, Fear, Murph. Booked: Cunningham.

Ref: M Bodenham Att: 36,733 League Position: 8th Results and League Table

Previous Match: Middlesbrough v Everton -- Next Match: Everton v Blackburn Rovers 

Match Summary

SoccerNet (Bob Cass, The Mail on Sunday): Wimbledon purged the memory of their five-goal drubbing at Aston Villa with a second-half goal barrage that left Everton demoralised. Graeme Stuart put Everton ahead but Wimbledon ran riot after the break with goals from Efan Ekoku, Oyvind Leonhardsen and Marcus Gayle.

Everton, in spite of a heavy list of casualties, showed commitment and determination and forced Wimbledon back on the defensive for most of the first half and were well worth their interval advantage. They had the better of the early exchanges in a game that was devoid of many goalmouth incidents apart from the odd shot off target until Everton took the lead in the 23rd minute.

John Ebbrell caught the Dons defence flat-footed with a neat through ball for Stuart to race beyond the two central defenders and tuck a low fight-footer between Neil Sullivan's hand and his body.

Duncan Ferguson should have added to the lead twice first with a shot off target after 25 minutes and even more blatantly on the half-hour when a Nicky Barmby cross left him with only Sullivan to beat but he headed straight at the Wimbledon keeper. It could have been a costly miss because Everton were lucky not to conceded a penalty seven minutes later when a shot from Efan Ekoku appeared to strike Earl Barrett on the hand but referee Martin Bodenham turned down the Wimbledon appeals.

But the visitors were not to be denied and in a stirring second-half fight-back they stung Everton with two well-taken goals. The home side were saved by two magnificent Neville Southall saves from Leonhardsen and Neil Ardley but Wimbledon's pressure paid off when Ekoku equalised with a looping header in the 59th minute. Leonhardsen put them ahead in the 70th minute racing on to Duncan Jupp's long ball and beating Southall with a low shot and five minutes later the Norwegian set up Gayle for the third after the Everton 'keeper had made another good save.

Merry Bloody Christmas!

Guy McEvoy: With Short, Watson, Hinchcliffe, Parkinson and Kanchelskis out crook, John Ebbrell making a premature return to plug a gap and the rest of the team knackered from a game 48 hours earlier, I actually went to this one fully expecting us to get beat (it's only about the third time this season the boys have lived up to my expectations). So there I am, totally mentally prepared for the result and what do they go and do? They only go and look like they might win it in the first half thus crushing all my carefully thought out one-off readiness for the worst and so the ultimate inevitable defeat leaves me going home just as gutted, let-down and frustrated as always.

First Half

It was the most curious first half. The atmosphere in a 36,000+ crowd was dominated by the murmurings of the 2 or 300 away supporters. An off-balance looking Everton took the field:

Both Stuart and Barrett though looked much better adjusted, Barrett seeming to more than cope with the Dons' towering forwards and Stuart (I kid you not) was firing on all cylinders like he was Kanchelskis in the peak of form. Indeed, it was from one such Andrei-esque run that Everton's first real chance came. Stuart, head down, skipped past two defenders and laid off a perfect ball to Rideout. Rideout spooned it in a manner that resulted in a perfect lay off to Barmby who inexcusably lifted it over the bar.

Not deterred, Diamond kept on battling, picking up an inch-perfect through-ball from Ebbrell, steadying himself for the shot, and releasing the ball under the keeper and home. By this point, Wimbledon hadn't really given any cause for concern and so a complacent mood set in.

No-one seemed that bothered when Duncan twice found himself clear through in good attacking situations only to hesitate to make himself easy to be dealt with, nor when he had a clear header at goal only to fire it weakly at the keeper. It wasn't domination by any stretch of the imagination, it was no more than an adequate display... but, at half-time, Wimbledon had shown so little truly threatening play that everyone felt confident that the points would be ours.

Second Half

It is difficult to work out what where it all went so wrong. The shape of both teams remained unchanged, Wimbledon seemed unconcerned with their deficit and just kept plodding along. Likewise, Everton seemed unconcerned with extending their lead and so just kept plodding along too. The crucial difference was that Wimbledon's patience with their formation was rewarded whilst Everton's complacency with their make-do tactics became exposed. Tired players, playing in unfamiliar roles in front of an unusually passionless crowd.

Stuart's industry seemed to dry up, Barrett's height suddenly started to look a weakness, Barmby and Grant both looked without any new ideas, Duncan contributed nothing in particular. Wimbledon gently kept pushing; they had three corners in 5 minutes, all of which ended in shots and the third of which put them on level terms when Unsworth gifted them the sort of flick-on Duncan must dream about, and it was Ekoku who said thank-you-very-much-indeed. Who was supposed to be marking him? -- I don't know!

Oh so briefly, this stirred Everton, resulting in a shot being cleared and falling to Stuart who, with great vision, saw Sullivan well off his line and chipped it first time from a good forty yards. It was inch perfect, many stood up arms aloft as it arched through the air with laser-like guidance. Sullivan was lost; however, one Dons defender did manage to scramble back to ruin Stuart's goal-of-the-season effort... and that was about the last serious challenge to the game we managed.

Wimbledon knew they had us and their pressure and the athleticism of their forwards was on us like a screw now. When they added the second ,Goodison was silent save a rendition of "Happy Birthday Joe Kinnear", and when the third went in with still over 10 minutes to play, a good third of the Park End decided that there was no way back in and set off to beat the traffic.

The bench's desperate final roll of the dice consisted of sticking on Branch for Rideout, though one wonders why he was picked over Duncan, and giving a debut for young John Hills so Speed could foray forward a bit. Hills looked a bit overawed by the occasion, and unsure of where he was supposed to be. His one serious touch he messed up, Joe can only be thankful that only half the crowd were still there to witness this, lest the poor lad's confidence be totally shattered.

And so there we have it. For the second time this season we were beaten by a Wimbledon team without them seemingly breaking into a sweat. This result now leaves us with the very sobering reality that, whilst only a week ago we still harboured championship thoughts, we are now closer on points to the relegation zone. Merry bloody Christmas!

Individual Performances

Devil's Due

Dave Shepherd: Seventh of May 1994: Wimbledon take a two goal lead against struggling opposition, then surrender three in strange fashion. Twenty-eighth of December 1996. Wimbledon are a goal down and struggling, but get 3 in 17 minutes.

It's ridiculous to suggest that Mike Walker made a pact with the Devil or Nice Mr Hammam by promising to lose for the next 6 years if they'd throw that one, but after watching the two performances against Wimbledon this season, you can't help wondering if payment isn't still unofficially being made for that dramatic day.

The two Wimbledon performances have stood out as the worst of the season by miles, and the 7-1 aggregate scoreline is a joke for a team otherwise averaging only a goal a game against.

A lot more likely this time are the stock whinges, and there are plenty: Kanchelskis, Parkinson, Watson, Short, Hinchcliffe all unavailable are five hefty ones to start with, then there's the Alex Ferguson keening style one about 'Two games in three days, both against more rested opposition'.

Yet the frustration is getting worse because this time despite the handicaps the game was there on a big fat plate and Everton generously declined to do more than nibble at it then throw it away.

The atmosphere in the Park was the most funereal since the 'pointless Coventry game' after safety was clinched at Ipswich 3 days before in 1995. For most Evertonians the bubble of optimism has already burst and will take some repairing. Tens of thousands sat in silent rows expecting the axe to fall again like Maxwell pensioners waiting to be told of the failure of their latest appeal.

JR's notes mentioned that Leeds fans had been the noisier than 'ours', saying "we know we have to excite the Blues contingent by what we do on the field". Well this time 250 quite placid Wimbledon fans were noisier too - for the first 15 minutes at least.

The much speculated makeshift defence was Hottiger, Barrett, Unsworth and Speed. Yes, Gary Speed at left wing-back. I'm reliably informed he did play this role sometimes for Leeds, but their fans thought Wilko needed his head examining. In midfield Ebbrell was put in for injured Parkinson, while up front Rideout was preferred to Branch.

Ever been to one of those games where no passes seem to find blue feet? This was the first 15 minutes. Passes to touch. Through balls to ghosts. Losses of possession to elementary interceptions and offside idiot traps. A few chances did come - one early saw a ball fall to Barmby at the far post just too high and the ball flew high off the leg from a 5 yard angle.

Then a little piece of luck. Stuart attacked the box from the right and took a shot, and Sullivan couldn't get down in time and it bobbled under him and in.

This sparked a confident revival, and for the remainder of the half, Everton enjoyed superiority and were rather unlucky not to add more goals, particularly from a chance which put Ferguson clean through only needing to guide in a chest high ball with his head - he hit it at the keeper.

Half time, all was well in Blue - Wimbledon, the hard-partying outfit had obviously partied too hard this Christmas, and were a soft touch despite all the giveaway balls. Their meagre forward progress had been firmly shut out by the centre backs, and they had not tested Speed at all. Meanwhile at the back they were not packing the defence, and were leaving men up instead of having them charge from the halfway line.

Lead at the top of the first half league duly extended - so to the formality of the second half. So what happens? So Wimbledon went back to basics and started playing centre circle ping pong. Everton fell for the sucker ploy. Five minutes of airball slowly edged to the Home Park End area, and two good Southall saves and two corners later, it was an unmarked Ekoku at the far post lobbing a header that gave them a goal. An immediate crowd upsurge and Everton attack from the kickoff very nearly wiped this out. Sullivan was left stranded on the edge of his area, and a long lob beat him but was headed away but McAllister on the line.

The goal inspired Wimbledon. Suddenly they were transformed and looked every bit a fourth placed team. They ripped again and again at the makeshift defence, and added two more goals in just 17 minutes, though annoyingly of the many chances they had, it was the softest two that counted. The third was a gift from a poor clearance.

Everton's efforts came stutteringly and without any hint of a gameplan. This regime seems to think that attacking is all about having the ball and waiting for goals to happen. They would be better served watching the like of Wimbledon and learning that finishing only comes after creation of clear chances, and is best undertaken by people who know how to do it.

JR clearly is stuck on this point. This was demonstrated when he removed Rideout for Branch in a game which the speedy man was never going to prosper, and the only other tall target (Ferguson, in the absence of Watson and Short) was being double or triple marked at set pieces. The final straw was when Joe effectively threw in the towel by bringing off Grant - no on second thoughts make that Ebbrell - and put on 18 yr old John Hills to die a horrible death in front of a morbid early- leaving crowd.

Even after the injuries and schedule are taken into account, this was an appalling team performance. No individuals were particularly bad, but the overall sum total was extremely poor and a sign that work is needed on the tactic board front more than on the cheque book front. Odd bad performances are excusable, but 1 win out of six is a formula for the bottom three, not the top three. The 'winning team' excuse no longer applies to the multi-attacking midfielder formation. It is time to grasp the nettle and say OK we're going to go with Barmby so Grant is surplus, or we're going to play or shelve Branch, or we're going to commit Stuart to one role or the other, or WHATEVER, but this shake & bake stuff is not working up front. The early season was dominated by games where EFC created hatfuls of chances. Even those are drying up.

This squad still has everything it needs to win the championship, but like a child prodigy with a new football, it has to be shown how to turn potential into results, not just left to learn by itself. Joe & Willie have lost the plot.. just in time for next week's Cup banana skin.

The Players

TEAM PERFORMANCE 5 Found their way to a solid half time lead after a dismal start, then threw it all away with idiot aplomb.

Ref: M Bodenham (Cornwall) Kept his head firmly below the parapet all game. Played it safe safe safe.

Oh dear! Oh dear!

Richard Marland: Just when we had built ourselves up towards a charge up the table, it all starts to go horribly wrong. Closely following the disappointing reverse against Middlesbrough (Jesus! Middlesbrough doing the double over us!) our patched-up team was ultimately unable to cope with the power of Wimbledon.

The patched up team lined up with Southall in goal, Hottiger at right back, Barrett and Unsworth at centre back and Gary Speed at left back. In midfield we had Ebbrell and Grant in the centre with Barmby wide left and Stuart wide right, with Ferguson and Rideout up front. Despite our worst fears we actually had the best of the first half.

Everyone applied themselves well and we took the lead through a well taken Stuart goal. We should have had more as Barmby missed in front of goal after good work by Stuart, and Dunc missed with a free header right in front of goal. Both of these chances were fairly straightforward and should have been taken.

At half time it was: "So far, so good..." We even started to believe that, true to the perverse nature of the Blues, we might even manage to win the game we all expected to lose. However, in the second half the wheels came off big-time.

We started to come under increasing pressure from Wimbledon and conceded a number of corners, -- always a risky proposition with the height in their side and the relative lack of it in ours. Two of the corners were cleared to the edge of the box from where Wimbledon players had goal-bound shots tipped around by Nev. They were warnings that we failed to heed and it was no surprise when the finally equalised.

It was also no surprise when they took the lead and then extended it. Our only glimmer of hope came when Stuart caught the goalie off his line and put in a goal-bound chip from a long way out.  It had the goalie beat and was on target; unfortunately, a Wimbledon defender had his wits about him to head it clear.

At 3-1 down we looked all at sea and it was a relief when the referee blew for time, so sparing us further embarrassment.

I had certainly gone to the game fearing a result like this. However, after our first half performance I really thought that we could hold our own. My mate reckoned that it was almost like the team just ran out of concentration, -- in the first half you could feel the application and concentration that everyone was giving, many of them in unfamiliar positions. That feeling was well and truly gone in the second half as we collectively gave a very poor performance. I really fear for the Blackburn on New Years Day, and I don't even want to contemplate the Swindon game.

The Players

Team 5 In the harsh light of day our first-half performance wasn't that good, it was just better than everyone expected. The second half was as bad as anyone would have feared. We were awful!

Dons do it to us again

Peter Griffiths:I woke up with a bit of Flu and, for the first time since I cannot remember when, thought about missing a match. We have a 180-mile round trip so it is an effort. Anyway, I pulled myself together, knowing the lads would need all the help they could get.

There were two Womble coaches and we had only given them the top of the Bullens. The 36 thousand odd spectators were even more Evertonian than usual. Everton TV showed That Game of 3 years ago. We have two small screens in the top balcony which have been placed behind the hanging strip lights. I just arrived to see the last Stuart goal and every one looked at each other sheepishly and shrugged as the goalie did a dying swan over the ball.

The scale of the injury list and our recent form against the Wombles did not bode well but, as usual, we began to get more confident as the game came closer. Joe pointed out in the programme notes that we would have played them 4 times in 1996 and they had had the better of 2 out of the first 3. He had obviously written the notes before the scale of the injury problems came clear.

Neville was captain. Gary Speed replaced Hinchcliffe, showing what an adaptable and useful player he is. He had a reasonable game. Unsie and Earl played in the centre of defence with Hottiger coming in. His distribution and crossing was not as good as Earl on recent form.

The mid-field was Grantona, Ebbrell, Barmby and Stuart. Barmby had a very quiet day and Stuart scored the goal and was described as our most creative player by Jimmy Armfield on the radio. (He said the new formation never looked convincing.)

The first half was a surprise. Neville did not have to make a save. We scored through Stuart being put through by Ebbrell and shooting under the keeper. Barmby missed a sitter when Rideout sliced a shot and it turned into a pass. I should think Nick was rushing in for the loose ball coming back. Dunc missed a sitter when he was unmarked from a cross about 15 yards out and he tamely gave it to the keeper.

After the first 10 minutes of midfield battle, we had the best of it by far. Their only real moment of danger was when Ekoku got through and Earl came back and robber him a la Rush last week. The hot tomato soup at half time was good as we looked forward to attacking the Street end.

That's when it went all wrong. They gradually got on top in mid-field. Neville had a couple of good saves from long shots. The goal came from a corner. The ball came back (off Unsie having seen it on MOTD) and the ball was lobbed in by a header over Neville from Ekoku. The second goal was a through ball behind our line that they got to first. Joe Kinnear had told them at half time that the game was there for them if they got behind our central defence. The last goal was a Neville mistake when he threw it to them.

We did attack a lot but to little effect. We had a real chance, I think after the first goal, when there keeper was out of the goal and it came to Stuart 35 yards out. He chipped in well and it was cleared off the line to Dunc who did not get a shot in. They gave up going for the ball with Dunc and reverted to letting him deflect it and then picking up the deflections.

They had done us again. Joe said that Ebbrell, Rideout and Grant ran out of steam. Rideout was totally ineffective and he did not even seem to have the energy to moan. He was replaced by Branch for the last 20 minutes but that was too late. Hills came on for Ebbrell at the same time and immediately tried to dribble and fell over the ball. Joe said we looked all right going forward and so did not put Limpar on.

There is a tee shirt outside that says Ferguson -- a legend in the making. We need that now but Joe was worried he was injured again. Kanchelskis is the most likely one to be back from Flu on New Years Day.

Gayle blows Crazy Gang back on track

Martin Searby, Sunday Times: THERE are those who sneer at Wimbledon's prospects of completing a 21-year fairy story by lifting the Premier League title, but if unity of purpose, a high work-rate and the ability to stand fast when the tide is running against you are key attributes, then they have a very strong chance.

Forced to field a reshuffled back four and midfield, they went a goal behind when Graham Stuart ran on to Mark Hottiger's through-ball to slip it under Neil Sullivan, and had Duncan Ferguson been on song they would have been in as deep a hole as they had dug for themselves at Villa Park last Sunday.

Then, the old spirit revived. The route-one game may have been long abandoned in favour of a neater, shorter approach, but Wimbledon have lost none of their physical strength and desire to compete in all parts of the field for the whole game.

It was not pretty stuff, but the persistence of Efan Ekoku and Marcus Gayle always looked capable of overcoming David Unsworth and Earl Barrett, the latter standing in for the injured David Watson. With Andy Hinchcliffe also absent, Everton were bound to have their share of problems.

Gradually the Merseysiders ran out of steam in the face of Wimbledon's determination, and on the hour Ekoku lost his marker at a corner and planted a well-aimed header beyond Neville Southall. Almost immediately, Stuart lobbed towards an empty goal from 30 yards out, but Brian McAllister raced back to head clear from under the bar. It proved a turning point, as Wimbledon raised their game.

"I told the players at half-time the match was there to be won," said Joe Kinnear, the manager. "We just had to lift ourselves a bit and put in some runs from midfield."

Oyvind Leonhardsen, arguably the most consistent foreign player in the Premier League, did just that to seize on a neat ball from Duncan Jupp, the Scottish Under-21 international playing only his second game since moving from Fulham. The Norwegian confidently clipped a low cross-shot past Southall, and as Everton visibly wilted Wimbledon grew 10 feet tall. A clever ball from Ekoku caught Everton flat, allowing Gayle to round the goalkeeper and bring the strike pair's tally to 18 for the season -­ a deadly duo no defence fancies playing against.

"It was a great way to bounce back after the stuffing by Villa," added Kinnear, celebrating his 50th birthday. "The unbeaten run was something of a millstone and now we've got that out of the way we're back on track.

"I could not have asked for a better present and if we stay clear of injuries and win our games in hand there's no reason why we cannot win the title."

A cautionary tale for Kinnear came from Joe Royle, who a fortnight ago had a full squad and an eye on Europe. But injuries to Craig Short, Hinchcliffe, Watson, Joe Parkinson and now Ferguson left the manager bemoaning his fate. "We just ran out of steam," he said. "We're almost running out of players as well. Even so, we should have been on easy street by half-time. But we missed straightforward chances and you just can't afford to do that. Wimbledon don't do anything to surprise you, but what they do, they do very well, and in the end they were too strong for us."

The Wimbledon story began 21 years ago when they entered the Football League. Rapid success saw them win promotion, though few friends, as they climbed to the top of the ladder. Kinnear is one of the shrewdest judges of a player in the game and he has built a sound side on limited funds. Most would back against them being champions but, the first three games of the season and that lapse at Villa Park apart, nobody is beating them even when they should.

Report Copyright The Sunday Times

Gayle and Ekoku too quick for Royle's rearguard

Peter Ball, The Times: WIMBLEDON'S ultimately convincing win at Goodison Park on Saturday left them level on points with Manchester United and Arsenal, sitting on Liverpool's shoulders. "We've got two games in hand on Liverpool," Joe Kinnear, the Wimbledon manager, pointed out. Is it time to start thinking the unthinkable?

On their second-half performance, Wimbledon are a lot closer than Everton, but they hardly exude championship class. Their success this season has led to a lot of loose talk about them being a good football side these days. Well, up to a point, Lord Copper.

"They are still pretty direct, but these days it's not a hoof, it's a good long ball," Graham Stuart testified. The days of Beasant and Fashanu, 80-yard punts and flying elbows, might have gone, but Grant and Unsworth both needed attention to head injuries, and the ball still goes from back to front pretty quickly.

After 15 minutes, Gayle was gesturing to Kimble that the occasional pass on the ground might be nice. But then if, in the absence of Earle, your central midfield is Jones and Cunningham, a destroyer and a defender, there is not much point in playing through it, and Wimbledon did not.

However, they are well organised, solid in defence despite the aberration at Villa Park, and Leonhardsen and the front pair of Ekoku and Gayle add genuine quality. "They do what they do, but they do it very well," Joe Royle said afterwards. "You know what they are going to do. They turn you, the two front men run into the corners all the time, Leonhardsen runs in behind you. They don't do anything that surprises you, but they do it very well and, in the end, they got two of their goals that way."

As a pair, Gayle and Ekoku may not have the same instant recognition as Shearer and Ferdinand or Collymore and Fowler, but they are rapidly having the same effect on defenders. "The two front players have been a handful for everybody. They've got a good understanding, they can both catch pigeons and they've got blistering pace," Kinnear said. Although Earl Barrett had an excellent game for Everton, in the end their pace and power, and the brilliant runs of Leonhardsen, pulled a tiring Everton apart. It was an impressive performance, for 45 minutes.

Proclaiming them as genuine contenders, though, overlooks the first half. Wimbledon would have you believe that they played well in the first half, too. No one else thought so. In that period, Southall did not have a save to make, while Everton missed the chances to have the game won by half-time.

The worst miss came from Ferguson, who seems to have started to believe his own publicity and was ineffectual throughout. Just after the half hour, with Everton leading through Stuart's goal, he came in totally unchallenged to meet Barmby's cross in front of goal eight or ten yards out. For a player of his reputation in the air, a goal looked inevitable, but a weak header sent it straight at Sullivan. A shot from a good position went wide, and the same result befell Barmby's effort, so Wimbledon survived.

Everton, with five players out, and Ebbrell and Rideout both short of fitness, had shot their bolt, whereas Wimbledon, who had not played on Boxing Day, got stronger. "I said at half-time that the game's there to be won," Kinnear said. "I gave Leonhardsen a free role, told him to make more runs because they weren't picking him up."

For a time, Southall kept Wimbledon at bay with two brilliant saves, but Ekoku brought them level from a corner before the hour, and from then on there was only one winner. Jupp, a £200,000 buy from Fulham, made his debut memorable as his long ball found Leonhardsen running free behind Unsworth to beat Southall, and then Gayle, showing fine balance and touch for a big man, accepted Ekoku's flick to round Southall and score.

Report Copyright The Times

Dons back on the Title trail

Paul Fitzpatrick, The Guardian: Wimbledon would have been happy with this result at any stage in the season. But coming a week after they lost 5-0 to Aston Villa it was doubly gratifying for the Premiership's ram-raiders.

The man who really impressed here was Oyvind Leonhardsen, the Norwegian signed by Wimbledon for 500,000 pounds and, according to Kinnear, the subject of two 4 million pound bids by Italian clubs. But for the first time in five years, said the manager, he is under no pressure to sell.

Given the freedom to roam at will after half-time, with the home side leading thanks to Stuart's neatly placed 23rd minute shot, Leonhardsen exposed defensive flaws which an under-strength Everton had earlier managed to conceal.

Much of Wimbledon's marked increase in urgency after half-time stemmed from him, and his fine display was adorned by a well-taken goal.

Everton are having a grim time with injuries at present but could hardly use that against opponents who had lost Earle, Perry and Holdsworth on the morning of the match.

The home side's reorganisation saw Ebbrell, not fully fit still and in employment for the first time since October, drafted into the side and Hottiger recalled in a defence that also included Speed, who dropped back from midfield; but for 45 minutes things worked better than Everton could have hoped.

Wimbledon's defence in which Duncan Jupp was impressive, suggested nerves were still on edge after the Villa mauling, and with better finishing from Barmby and Ferguson Everton could have been beyond catching at the interval.

But they finally left to jeers. Southall's two fingertip saves rang the alarm and between the 59th and 76th minutes goals from Ekoku, Leonhardsen and Gayle showed how feeble Everton's title challenge now looks -- and how credible Wimbledon's.

Leonhardsen enhances his rising value to Wimbledon

Dave Hadfield, The Independent: Although Wimbledon's exalted position in the Premiership is due in no small part to being able to avoid selling anyone this year, thoughts occasionally turn to how much Oyvind Leonhardsen might be worth on the open market.

The Norwegian was a modest signing from Rosenborg Trondheim, but his contribution to the cause this season is such that his manager, Joe Kinnear, cannot help musing on his potential value. 'We'd probably get five, six, seven million if and when the time comes,' he said after Leonhardsen had again played a major role in the victory that got Wimbledon back on the rails after the spectacular end to their unbeaten run at Aston Villa. Not that Kinnear, who celebrated his 50th birthday and 35 years in football in style, wants to unload. Leonhardsen is too important to his side's success for that.

Everton's Joe Royle echoed the observation of many opposing managers this season. Wimbledon never surprise you. You know exactly what they are going to do, but they do it very well.

What they do with such expertise is to stretch and harry defences through the tireless running to and from wide positions of Efan Ekoku and Marcus Gayle.

Both got a goal in Wimbledon's second half demolition of a leg-weary Everton, but Leonhardsen's use of the space that the two front men create has been an equally important factor in their march onwards and upwards.

He scored the middle goal of the three, latching on to a lofted through ball from the debutant full-back, Duncan Jupp, that cynics would call typically Wimbledon.

In fact, Wimbledon played some fluent, controlled football and if that goal typified anything in their armoury it was the excellence of their finishing. And even with three players ruled out with flu on the morning of the match they retained their shape and organisation.

The same could not, over the 90 minutes, be said for Everton. They were forced by injury and illness to field a number of players in unfamiliar positions and others for whom the novelty consisted of being in the first team at all.

For the first half, it hung together reasonably well, with Gary Speed perfectly assured at left back and Graham Stuart filling the Andrei Kanchelskis role with some aplomb.

It was Stuart who put Everton ahead, scoring from a pass by John Ebbrell, pressed back into action after a 10-game absence. But he was one of several players who felt the pace after the break, when the benefits of Wimbledon's day off on Boxing Day also came into the equation.

Kinnear welcomes gift from depleted Everton

Derek Potter, Electronic Telegraph: JUST as their manager Joe Kinnear said they could, Wimbledon set up the chance to embark on another successful run with a second Premiership win this season over Everton. Oyvind Leonhardsen and Marcus Gayle punished Everton's weakened defence with winning goals in the 69th and 75th minutes. Both followed three-man moves in an unspectacular match but it yielded precious points for Kinnear on his birthday and gave Joe Royle, the Everton manager, more trouble.

It took a seriously depleted Everton only 23 minutes to question Wimbledon's resolve seven days after the London club's unexpected hiding at Villa Park had ended a run of 19 games without a defeat. Graham Stuart's goal would have displeased goalkeeper Neil Sullivan, who was beaten by a tame rather than assured shot. But the build-up and goal was confirmation of Wimbledon's earlier uneasy moments against a team missing five leading players.

Marc Hottiger, in only his second game of the season, combined with John Ebbrell, who has played only one reserve game in two months, took advantage of Wimbledon's inadequate cover to send Stuart clear on the right. Paul Rideout had earlier miscued a shot horribly off-target and Nick Barmby, probably surprised to see the ball at his feet rather than the net, missed a thinly-guarded target.

Everton, beaten 4-0 at Selhurst Park in September, were in a determined mood for revenge. But Duncan Ferguson missed a clear chance in the 36th minute. Barmby held his head in his hands after seeing his long cross reach the unmarked Ferguson less than 10 yards out. But Ferguson, usually so powerful in the air, plopped a tame downward header straight into Sullivan's hands.

Gayle and Efan Ekoku caused minor problems earlier on in the first half when Wimbledon often played with aggression and skill, but not with the flair of the team that had cruised into fourth place in the Premiership, despite a day off on Boxing Day when the game against West Ham was postponed.

Everton had more excuses for their share of the poor passes and lost possession that prevented a more enterprising match between two teams eager to play in Europe next season.

Two saves in two minutes by Neville Southall from Vinnie Jones and Neal Ardley underlined the veteran Welshman's agility. But Southall could not keep out a looping header from Ekoku a minute later in the 59th minute. Then in a burst of action a bold lob by Stuart from 50 yards beat Sullivan only for Brian McAllister to head the ball to safety.

Report Copyright The Electronic Telegraph

Results and League Table

Sunday, 29 December 1996

SOUTHAMPTON             0-1     LIVERPOOL                 15,222  

Saturday, 28 December 1996

ARSENAL                 2-2     ASTON VILLA               38,130  
Wright(13) Merson(73)           Milosevic(68) Yorke(74)
CHELSEA                 2-2     SHEFFIELD WEDNESDAY       27,467  
Zola(9) Hughes(23)              Pembridge(23) Stefanovic(90)
COVENTRY CITY           3-0     MIDDLESBROUGH             20,617  
Huckerby(29) McAllister(pen:64) Liddle(og:85)
DERBY COUNTY            0-0     BLACKBURN ROVERS          17,847  

EVERTON                 1-3     WIMBLEDON                 36,733  
Stuart(23)                      Ekoku(59) Leonhardsen(70) Gayle(76)
LEICESTER CITY          2-2     NOTTINGHAM FOREST         20,833  
Heskey(10) Izzet(63)            Clough(37) Cooper(87)
MANCHESTER UNITED       1-0     LEEDS UNITED              55,256  
NEWCASTLE UNITED        7-1     TOTTENHAM HOTSPUR         36,308  
Shearer(20,82) Ferdinand(22,59) Nielsen(89)
Lee(61,88) Albert(79)
WEST HAM UNITED         2-0     SUNDERLAND                24,077  
Bilic(27) Raducioiu(90)

Table after 29 December 1996

Club                          P    W    D    L   GF   GA   GD  Pts
Liverpool                    21   12    6    3   38   19   19   42
Manchester United            20   10    7    3   42   25   17   37
Arsenal                      20   10    7    3   37   20   17   37
Wimbledon                    19   11    4    4   33   23   10   37
Newcastle United             20   10    4    6   35   22   13   34
Aston Villa                  20   10    4    6   29   19   10   34
Chelsea                      20    8    8    4   32   29    3   32
Everton                      20    7    7    6   29   27    2   28
Sheffield Wednesday          20    6   10    4   21   22   -1   28
Tottenham Hotspur            20    8    4    8   22   26   -4   28
Derby County                 20    5    8    7   20   25   -5   23
Leicester City               20    6    5    9   20   27   -7   23
Sunderland                   20    6    5    9   19   28   -9   23
Coventry City                20    5    7    8   20   25   -5   22
Leeds United                 20    6    4   10   16   24   -8   22
West Ham United              19    5    6    8   18   25   -7   21
Middlesbrough                20    4    6   10   25   38  -13   18
Blackburn Rovers             19    3    8    8   17   22   -5   17
Southampton                  20    4    4   12   28   37   -9   16
Nottingham Forest            20    2    8   10   18   36  -18   14

This League Table Update provided by Lawrence "Leagueman" Breakey

This Match Report Compilation was prepared by Michael Kenrick for Marko Poutiainen. 12 Jan 1996.