Seven years ago when AFC Wimbledon were lining up for their first ever league game against Sandhurst Town, Luton were preparing to face Peterborough United in League One, a division that also included Wigan Athletic and QPR. The fact that the two clubs were now facing each other in a league game, a result of four promotions in sevens seasons for the Dons and three successive relegations for the Hatters, was something that the fans of both sides had had a month to get used to but would have sounded entirely ridiculous on that hot August day in 2002.
For his side's first game outside of the Football League since 1920, Luton boss Mick Harford, the recipient of the best reception an away manager has ever had at Kingsmeadow, fielded several of his new signings, but was missing giant striker Liam Hatch on a season's loan from Peterborough, from where three other players in the starting eleven (keeper Tyler, defender Blackett and winger Newton) had been signed.
Terry Brown opted to start with new defensive pairing Paul Lorraine and Brett Johnson and his 4-3-3 formation also featured new boys Steven Gregory and Derek Duncan, with Jon Main on the bench and Jay Conroy and Alan Inns out of the squad entirely, although the latter to an injury.
With 4488 fans packed into the sun-kissed Fans' Stadium for the Dons first game at national level, the home side started brightly with most of the enterprising play coming from Chris Hussey and Derek Duncan down the left with Duncan in particular giving right back Reynolds some early season thinking to do. For all their early possession the Dons didn't really threaten Tyler's goal but it was an encouraging start, typified by Paul Lorraine's far post header from a Duncan corner that flew just over the bar without troubling the keeper.
However, with only 14 minutes on the clock Luton got what appeared to be a lucky break. Burgess swung a free kick on from the left and as three players from each side challenged for the ball the referee pointed to the spot. Lorraine was shown a yellow card and the referee suggested that the former Woking defender had pushed a Luton player in the melee. Tom Craddock made no mistake from the spot and what had started out as such a promising day had now begun to take on a rather darker hue.
The goal seemed to drain the Dons of the early confidence. During the next 30 minutes every single member of the home side gave the ball away needlessly at some stage, with even James Pullen under hitting a simple pass to Lorraine and it was only a fine intervention from Johnson that prevented Craddock from taking advantage. Sam Hatton in particular was suffering from a lack of confidence which belied his excellent first 15 minutes' performance - Luton were so quick to close down Hatton, Gregory, Lewis Taylor and Elliott Godfrey that the Dons defence had no outlet for the balls they had worked so hard to win.
Luke Garrard was finding his options limited with the terrier-like Luton midfield denying him space. Newton was consistently outpacing Hussey but last-ditch defending by Lorraine and Johnson kept the Hatters strikers at bay, Lorraine blocking four shots in one move alone. The half time whistle was greeted with an audible sign of relief from the Dons supporters, grateful that the game was still well within their grasp and not as out of sight as it could have been.
Neither manager elected to make any changes at half-time but the opening exchanges of the second half suggested that Terry Brown wasn't overly happy with his charges. Taylor and Hatton were now operating wider, with Godfrey and Duncan deeper to make a more solid-looking 4-5-1. The Dons were now snappier in the tackle and were working more balls out to the flanks. Kedwell's tireless first half running went almost entirely unrewarded, but now, with support from midfield, Pilkington and Blackett were looking vulnerable for the first time. Also looking vulnerable was Kedwell's temple after Reynolds caught him with a leading elbow, a challenge that was deemed worthy of only a yellow card. It was as if the Dons' front six had been re-energised, Hatton had put his nerves aside, Gregory was now finding team mates with his long, raking passes and Taylor and Garrard were now linking up on the right as well as Duncan and Hussey were on the left. Chances were still few and far between but Hussey and Godfrey both had a pair of crosses cleared by Pilkington and Emanuel and Tyler's goal was now looking under threat.
At the other the Dons defence switched off twice in close succession but poor finishing from Craddock and Gallen ensured that the Luton lead remained slender.
Brown decided to go for broke with a double substitution that saw Luke Moore and last season's top scorer Main come on for Hatton and Duncan and only minutes later Ricky Wellard replaced Godfrey for his competitive Dons debut. With 9 minutes left, one of the substitutes made a telling impact. Gregory cleared a dangerous looking Luton attack, Main latched onto it some 40 yards from goal and raced away from Blackett - as he reached the penalty area he steadied himself, shaped to shoot and panicked Blackett into mistiming his tackle. Main went down, the game had its second penalty and Blackett trudged off.
Main's unerring finish from 12 yards restored parity but far from settling for a point, the Dons decided to go for a winner. Two minutes later they almost had it but Wellard took too long to compose himself when well placed on the edge of the area and although the ball fell invitingly for Moore he couldn't get his shot away.
Luton launched one last attack but Pilkington over hit his pass intended for substitute Basham and what could have been the Hatters' last chance to test Pullen for the first time in the half come to nothing and the spoils were shared.
Terry Brown had earlier said that it would be against sides such as the Dons next two opponents, Eastbourne and Kettering, that his team would be judged, and not Luton, but if this performance was anything to go by, the second half display in particular, the home fans have got a lot to look forward to.