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The BBC's Alan Green
"He may have scored the most important goal of his side's season"
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Saturday, 6 May, 2000, 16:13 GMT 17:13 UK
Super Hartson hands Dons lifeline
James shows his disgust after the Dons goal
Wimbledon 2-2 Aston Villa

A last-gasp strike from Wimbledon substitute John Hartson helped his side to a vital 2-2 draw against Aston Villa and gave their chances of Premiership survival, a lifeline.

The Dons took an early lead when Villa defender Ugo Ehiogu, unwittingly headed into his own goal.

It was nice to come on and get an equaliser but we're not getting carried away by any means

John Hartson
The Midlanders bounced back after the break, through strikes from England internationals, Lee Hendrie and Dion Dublin.

But a late header from Hartson, means the Dons go into the last game of the season - away to Southampton - knowing a win could cement their Premiership survival.

Villa, with the FA Cup final to look forward to, were themselves chasing fifth place in the Premiership, and a possible Uefa Cup spot.

And it was the away team that looked the more sprightly in the opening moments.

Italian forward Benito Carbone strode down the left wing and crossed an inviting ball into the penalty area for striker Dion Dublin, who could only aim his header over the crossbar.

Ehiogu gave Wimbledon a gift
The invention shown by Paul Merson and Carbone in the Villa midfield was a stark reminder of the class the Dons had been lacking during the past season.

Admittedly, Wimbledon are more renowned for their spirit and dogged determination, but lately they have been lacking those ingredients as well.

Interim boss Terry Burton had fielded a side which contained many of the old Dons brigade that played under Joe Kinnear - so where there was experience, there was always a chance.

And after 15 minutes the relegation threatened side welcomed a little bit of luck that came their way.

Forward Marcus Gayle delivered a teasing ball into the box, and the under-pressure Ehiogu headed into his own net, to the delight of the Selhurst Park faithful.

But Villa fought back, and midfielder Alan Thompson brought out a spectacular save from Dons 'keeper Neil Sullivan, with his stunning 25-yard strike.

We knew time was running out but we spoke about belief before the game and told the players they'd be expected to run until they dropped

New Dons boss Terry Burton
The Dons had rolled up their sleeves and the goal had clearly given them a lift, but just minutes before the interval they suffered a major blow when their playmaker, Michael Hughes was stretchered off with what seemed to be a serious leg injury.

But Villa were to get their reward, when wing back Alan Wright floated in a high ball into the 18-yard box, and diminutive Lee Hendrie nodded in after the ball was knocked back into the danger area by Mark Delaney.

Defender Gareth Barry had the ideal opportunity to put John Gregory's side ahead, but he could not convert Wright's run and pass.

Gregory's men finally broke down the Dons' resistance when Villa 'keeper David James sent a huge clearance down the field, and Dublin reacted quickest to control and volley past a startled Sullivan.

It looked as if Wimbledon were destined for defeat, but up popped substitute Hartson to give Wimbledon a chance to perform their own great escape.


Wimbledon: Sullivan, Cunningham, Blackwell, Hreidarsson, Thatcher, Ardley, Euell, Andersen, Hughes, Gayle, Cort. Subs: Kimble, Hartson, Heald, Jupp, Francis.

Aston Villa: James, Southgate, Ehiogu, Barry, Delaney, Merson, Thompson, Hendrie, Wright, Dublin, Carbone. Subs: Joachim, Standing, Samuel, McGrath., Enckelman.

Referee: M Halsey (Welwyn Garden City)

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