A little look ahead to Saturday...
A sell-out crowd and a massive outpouring of emotion is sure to be the order of the day on Saturday when the Hatters host AFC Wimbledon in the Town’s first game at Kenilworth Road back in the Football League.
Not only is a special atmosphere guaranteed for the Hatters’ first home Football League match since April 2009, but the fixture also promises to be a cracker with both teams fancied to do well in League 2 this term. And, let’s not forget Saturday’s encounter will also be the first time the two clubs have met since the Wombles’ penalty shootout victory over the Town at the City of Manchester Stadium in the 2011 Conference Play-Off final.
A lot has changed at both clubs since that day in Manchester. Both managers in charge of that match have now moved on, as have a number of players. Mark Tyler, Jake Howells and Alex Lawless are the only three players still in the Town squad from that afternoon of disappointment.
The Dons, now under the tutelage of Neal Ardley, are enjoying their fourth season in the Football League. AFC have never finished higher than 16th place in League 2 – achieved in their debut season in the League – and in their last two campaigns Dons have finished in 20th position in League 2.
But hopes are high at Kingsmeadow that Ardley’s side can make the step up to League 1 for the first time in the club’s short history.
The squad and summer arrivals have certainly piqued the Dons faithful’s belief of a successful campaign and the Town will certainly need to be aware of prolific striker Matt Tubbs, who arrived on a season-long loan from Bournemouth. The diminutive striker fired Crawley to the Conference title in 2010/11 with 40 goals and has previously netted against the Town whilst with Salisbury.
However, Tubbs – who scored on his debut for the Dons in their 2-2 draw with Shrewsbury last Saturday – isn’t the only danger in the Dons squad. Ardley’s group contain a plethora of experienced heads, including striker Adebayo Akinfenwa, Dannie Bulman, Andy Frampton and Sammy Moore.
The Dons were beaten comprehensively the last time they set foot inside Kenilworth Road back in 2010/11 with the Hatters winning 3-0 in front of the live Premier Sports cameras. On that Friday night goals from Zdenek Kroca, George Pilkington and Matthew Barnes-Homer were enough to give the Town all three points. That remains the only time the Hatters have beaten the Dons. Take away the Play-Off final, and Saturday’s visitors have only beaten the Town once. That also came at Kenilworth Road in February 2010 when Danny Kedwell hit the winning goal. If you cast your mind back even further back the Town and Wimbledon faced each other on the opening day of the Conference season back in 2009/10 – a game that ended in 1-1 draw.