| The win so desperately needed to rejuvenate
two ailing seasons which once promised so much did not show its face at
Selhurst Park. Wimbledon and Aston Villa started 1999 full of hope and
expectation. Villa were starting to entertain thoughts of the FA Carling
Premiership title and the Dons had an eye firmly on Europe. Five straight
defeats for John Gregory's men, just as their heavyweight rivals clicked
into top gear, had shattered any Premiership aspirations in Birmingham.
And Joe Kinnear's troops, who gambled everything on a place in the Worthington
Cup final, have suffered double cup heartbreak at the hands of Tottenham
during a January to forget. Wimbledon have now gone more than nine hours
without a goal and haven't won a Premiership game since January 9. Both
teams looked to be running on tanks close to empty. There was plenty of
endeavour on display but, with confidence brittle, no-one could provide
a match-winning moment. Kinnear had given his players a rallying call
after the Spurs defeat. He urged them to give the rest of the season everything
they had in a bold bid for a top six place and maybe a European prize.
But the Dons proved reluctant to rouse from their Sunday slumbers and
Villa ought to have taken advantage of some generous defending early on.
Dion Dublin found himself in acres of space inside two minutes as the
Wimbledon back-line made a hash of a long hopeful clearance from Riccardo
Scimeca. Dublin tried to lob Neil Sullivan but the keeper scurried back
to tip the ball over. Ian Taylor wasted a better chance when a half-cleared
Lee Hendrie cross fell perfectly for him in front of goal. The midfielder
had time to pick his spot but chose somewhere at the back of the stand.
Ben Thatcher produced a terrific saving tackle to deny Julian Joachim
and Sullivan twice raced from his line to save bravely at the feet of
Joachim and Simon Grayson. Paul Merson whistled a blistering right-foot
drive inches wide of Sullivan's right-hand post and Andy Roberts twice
denied Taylor in front of goal. The Dons lumbered into life shortly before
half-time. Efan Ekoku came within inches of getting his head to cross
from sub Alan Kimble, on for the injured Thatcher. The Nigerian shot over
and Jason Euell tried his luck from long range without threatening Michael
Oakes. Villa's keeper was called into action moments before the break.
A deep Kenny Cunningham pass from the right reached Neal Ardley but Oakes
kept out his low drive. Merson flashed another low drive wide after the
restart and Hendrie launched into a spectacular overhead kick but his
shot lacked power and Sullivan saved easily. Oakes produced a flying save
to keep out a dipping long-range volley from Gayle. The unimpressive Selhurst
Park pitch almost had its say when Grayson's shot bounced up off the turf
and caused Sullivan a scare as he scrambled it round the foot of his post.
Stan Collymore came on for Joachim but couldn't produce anything to win
the game. Wimbledon finished strongly with a series of attacks but the
visitors defended stoutly on the edge of their area.