Unless you were Alastair Campbell or one of the other 892 Burnley fans who turned up at the National Hockey Stadium, Wimbledon's debut as the new heroes of Milton Keynes ended in smiles, though a couple of hiccups needed to be overcome along the way. Burnley's first-half assurance and two-goal lead were eroded with the dismissal of their captain, David May, for a second bookable offence when he handled the ball to halt a Wimbledon attack. The manager, Stan Ternent, quite rightly called it the turning point, Burnley lost composure and, eventually, their lead to goals from Dean Holdsworth and Patrick Agyemang.
While Ternent railed at the result ("I feel as if I have had my pocket picked") and the decision which undermined his team, Wimbledon's manager Stuart Murdoch was luxuriating in the single point which ended a dismal sequence of seven straight defeats. He called Wimbledon's change of address "an emotional day for players and spectators. I am glad it is finally here. We have waited a long time, as have the people of Milton Keynes. We have suffered for 18 months in a stadium with 1,500 people, no atmosphere, no support. This is the first positive thing we have had".
Wimbledon's off-field baptism at their new home was a quiet one, genteel almost. Ninety minutes before kick-off police and orange-bibbed stewards comfortably outnumbered punters and there was no sign of the threatened demonstrations from protesting former fans from south London. The club chairman, Charles Koppel, for whom "Wanted" posters were being flaunted a year ago when Wimbledon were at Selhurst Park, was able to stand outside the main reception entrance unpestered and unvilified.
Within its limitations of size, the stadium looked a treat, and a decent crowd (if well short of the expected capacity of 9,000) had rolled up to see history made, even though it was history of the Dick Turpin variety, the first franchise shift in the English game, or as the disenchanted supporters call it, a hijack. Pete Winkelman, the music entrepreneur behind the move to set up Wimbledon in Milton Keynes, was unrepentant, claiming in his programme welcome that the Dons are "a team that lives and breathes because we gave them a chance".
Wimbledon even got a good reception when they ran out to warm up 40 minutes before the scheduled start, though the limited number of open turnstiles meant it was delayed for a quarter of an hour. Irony indeed, considering the team had spent so long playing home games in front of a mini-van load of followers. Even the Burnley team bus found the way into the ground barred on arrival.
With a wealth of Premiership experience (mainly via loans) Burnley soon impressed as the more skilled outfit but luck had more to do with the two first-half goals than skill. Having been the first to suffer a booking, for kicking the ball away at a free kick, Robbie Blake took a free- kick after 21 minutes which benefited from a deflection off the Wimbledon wall, wrong-footing Paul Heald. Sixteen minutes later Delroy Facey got to the byline and slid his pass to Blake, whose side-footed shot again took a deflection.
Wimbledon, offering little more than enthusiasm, still had their chances, with Agyemang squandering most of them. The worst of his misses came when sent clear by Nigel Reo-Coker's astute pass and he rounded Jensen, only to shoot into the side netting. The second-half dismissal of May turned what looked a lost cause into a window of opportunity for Wimbledon, though referee Mark Warren's attention had to be drawn to the defender's handling offence by a linesman. The goal their new supporters had been waiting to salute arrived when Holdsworth, the one link to Wimbledon's past, coolly turned in Agyemang's cross. "Dean told me he was going to write his name into history yet again, and he did," said Murdoch.
Another five minutes and Wimbledon were level. Brian Jensen beat away a long shot from Adam Nowland and when the ball was switched back into the middle Agyemang atoned for all those first-half misses with a precise header. In those seats which were occupied, joy was unconfined.
Holdsworth 66, Agyemang 71
Blake 21, 37
Half-time: 0-2 Attendance: 5,639