Amazing season for deserted Dons

WIMBLEDON have enjoyed an amazingly successful season considering how they have been deserted by so many of their fans because of the decision to relocate to Milton Keynes next season, writes Tony Garnett.

WIMBLEDON have enjoyed an amazingly successful season considering how they have been deserted by so many of their fans because of the decision to relocate to Milton Keynes next season, writes Tony Garnett.

A crowd of only 1053 turned out at Selhurst Park for their match with Preston North End earlier this week, yet the Dons came away with a 2-0 victory despite the total lack of atmosphere.

Manager Stuart Murdoch and his players, many of them youngsters, have done a tremendous job. Wimbledon have spent 12 years sharing Selhurst Park with Palace. They wanted a home of their own but ran into planning problems over developing their old ground at Plough Lane. Another option was the Wimbledon Greyhound Stadium but that also turned out to be a non-starter.

They will be using the National Hockey Stadium at first at Milton Keynes but expect to have their brand new £30 million stadium ready to seat 28,000 by 2007.

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In the meantime the Dons have chalked up some splendid results using a blend of loyal and experienced professionals with lads coming up from the Academy.

Murdoch, a former headteacher at St John's Primary School in Ipswich and cricketer with Ipswich and East Suffolk, has gone a long way to knocking the theory that only former professional footballers can succeed in management.

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Kelvin Davis is one of the best goalkeepers in the Nationwide League. He cost £600,000 from Luton Town in 1999 and is now in his prime at 27 years old. He is a former England youth international who could hold his own in the Premiership. Shane Gore is the reserve keeper.

The front pair of Neil Shipperley, who scored both goals against Preston, and Irishman David Connolly has become well established. Shipperley has 23 goals this season, 19 of them in the league.

Now 28, he was capped seven times by England at Under-21 level and has had some big-money transfers in his time. He joined Southampton from Chelsea for £1.25 million in 1995. In October the following year he joined Crystal Palace for £1 million. In September 1998 he joined Nottingham Forest for £1.5 million. They let him go to Barnsley for £700,000 in 1999. The Oakwell club made a £50,000 profit when Shipperley became a Wimbledon player.

Darren Holloway, the Dons' most expensive defender at £1.25 million from Sunderland in 2000 needed surgery to his left knee after a knock sustained at Stoke City while £2.5 million midfield man, Norwegian international Trond Andersen from Molde, is having treatment for an ankle injury. Others in the wars have been Jobi McAnuff (hip), Damien Francis (ankle), Jermaine Darlington (hip) and Lionel Morgan (cartilage).

Murdoch has thrown youngsters in at the deep end and they have responded. Central defender Rob Gier, now 23, is a one-club man while Mikele Leigertwood and Alex Tapp are both only 20.

Teenagers Malvin Kamara and Dean Lewington (son of Watford boss Ray Lewington) were involved against Preston but also played in the reserves this week, no doubt to help them keep their feet on the ground.

Nico and Denny Herzig are young Germans from Carl Zeiss Jena while Nigel Reo-Coker is a central midfielder who had his first taste of league football last season. He played for the England Under-19 side in Germany this week and could be rested.

Left-back Peter Hawkins is versatile, striker Patrick Agyemang was voted young player of the year in 2000 and Adam Nowland has completed a one-match ban but might be on the bench. Wayne Gray is a 22-year-old striker who has had loan spells at Swindon, Leyton Orient and Brighton.

The Dons joined the Football League in 1977 in place of Workington Town. Two years earlier they had taken Leeds United to an FA Cup fourth-round replay after goalkeeper Dickie Guy saved a penalty from Peter Lorimer.

They won the FA Cup in 1988 when goalkeeper Dave Beasant was their star against Liverpool.

Vinnie Jones and Dennis Wise became their best-known players while managers have included Allen Batsford, Dario Gradi, Dave Bassett, Bobby Gould and Joe Kinnear before a sorry season under Egil Olsen that saw them drop into Division One in 2000.

The "Crazy Gang" Wimbledon were perhaps unfairly associated with the long ball game, but the Dons of today play a tidy passing game and are good to watch.

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