A DECENT game to start the new season and all the important action was saved for the final four minutes.
United and Wimbledon toiled away in the Riviera sun, as both sides showed their obvious determination to avoid the relegation troubles of a few months earlier.
The Gulls were grateful to a marvellous performance from goalkeeper Martin Rice but the Yellows also had plenty of chances of their own, so when Harry Pell scored with a deflected strike on 87 minutes, three quarters of Plainmoor fell silent.
To their eternal credit, the players in Yellow did not wallow for a second and the point they deserved was earned when Aaron Downes planted a fine injury-time header into the bottom corner.
United manager Alan Knill had six new signings in his first starting line-up of the new campaign but the opening name of goalkeeper Rice, in for the injured Michael Poke, has been connected to the club for many years.
Right-back Dale Tonge was one of those making his debut, as was central defender Krystian Pearce, but they were ably assisted in the back four by experienced Gulls Kevin Nicholson and Aaron Downes.
Courtney Cameron was another new face on the wing, with Billy Bodin operating from the opposite flank. Captain Lee Mansell was joined in midfield by summer recruit Ben Harding, while Elliot Benyon was partnered in attack with Callum Ball, who joined on loan from Derby two days ago.
Wimbledon boss Neal Ardley also had a number of new faces in his side, most notably towering forward Michael Smith. The youngster, on loan from Charlton, was the first to threaten on a breezy summer afternoon, skipping in behind the United defence, but Rice narrowed the angles to make a smart save.
The Yellows continued their sluggish start when a high ball deceived Downes, leaving space for right-winger George Francomb to rifle a low half-volley inches beyond the far post.
When United eventually woke up as an attacking force, it was down to some nifty work from Harding creating room for Cameron to swing over a dangerous cross. Bodin headed the first effort skyward and when Ball scrambled the loose ball over the line, a raised flag swiftly quelled home cheers.
As the game settled into a steadier rhythm on a lush Plainmoor surface, the Gulls were gradually taking some control of possession and Bodin was unlucky to see his low drive deflect wide after a terrific turn had given the youngster space on the edge of the box.
It was, however, a rare glimpse of goal in an opening half-hour that had turned into a fairly scrappy affair between two sides blessed with their fair share of big players. Pearce and Downes, in particular, were displaying their obvious physical prowess as a dominant defensive combination.
Knill switched his wingers in an attempt to liven up proceedings but it was Wimbledon who had the next sniff, although, in truth, Rice comfortably dealt with a low cross from the right by Smith.
The stand-out moment of the half arrived on 41 minutes, as Smith swept the ball wide for Porter to steer a driven low cross to the back post where Luke Moore had an empty net gaping for the opening goal, but Rice swiftly made up his ground to make a truly stunning save.
It looked a certain goal and the Gulls immediately sought to capitalise on their reprieve but Ball was unable to direct a Tonge cross on target, as the young forward stooped to head wide, and the first 45 minutes of a new season was complete.
The second-half begun in frantic fashion, as a terrific Bodin cross was bravely cleared by Wimbledon captain Alan Bennett, who was placed under heavy pressure by the powerful Ball. Nicholson then had almost 3,500 supporters purring with appreciation, but his drilled long-ranger was two yards wide of the top corner.
United were turning the screw and when Mansell sold a clever dummy to find a space for a dinked cross, Pearce was denied the first goal when his header was deflected wide.
The Gulls also came within a fraction of scoring from the next attack, as Ball turned in space 30 yards from goal, powered past his marker and fired a low drive past the dive of goalkeeper Ross Worner, but the post saved the visitors.
In fairness, Wimbledon quickly settled from the mini-siege and Smith again had Rice performing heroics, as his powerful drive toward the top corner was superbly turned wide by a goalkeeper in fabulous form.
A tremendous pass from Pell then had an impressive contingent of away support screaming their appreciation and United were relieved to see the recipient, Moore, stab his shot on the stretch into the waiting arms of Rice.
It was time to twist and Ardley played his whole hand in one go, introducing Jack Midson, Charlie Sheringham and Chris Arthur for the tiring legs of Francomb, Porter and Smith. United, meanwhile, withdrew Benyon for another new signing in Karl Hawley.
The Dons were now the team in the ascendancy and when Barry Fuller got past Bodin to deliver a cross for Pell, United were reliant on a brave block-tackle from Downes to repel the shot.
Seconds later, the hero was again Rice and this was probably the best save of his superb afternoon. Arthur was the catalyst for Wimbledon, skipping past Tonge and driving a low cross to the near-post but
United’s custodian displayed astonishing reflexes to parry clear the flicked shot from Midson.
Knill understandably sought to change the worrying pattern by introducing Chapell for Cameron on 77 minutes and it worked in a sense, as United drove forward for the impressive Harding to lash a dipping shot narrowly over.
The game was into its final five minutes when Harding picked up the ball in midfield and found Chapell in space on the left. The young winger immediately cut inside and steered a cross to the far post, but Hawley arrived a moment too late.
Within a minute, it was a pivotal passage of play, as the Dons broke down the right and when Fuller squared to Pell, the former Hereford man struck a sweet shot toward goal. Given his performance, Rice looked favourite to make the save but a glance off the head of Downes left United’s man of the match stranded.
The visitors were justifiably jubilant and Knill sought to rescue a point by replacing Tonge with the lightning legs of Niall Thompson. The new man was soon in the action, feeding the ball to Hawley, who was pushed on the edge of the area.
The free-kick was driven in low by Harding but cleared by a sea of Wimbledon legs. Ball then had a fierce strike blocked, as the Gulls laid siege and Downes was on hand to deliver a very welcome equaliser.
Thompson was the man to pick out the Australian, who rose highest to direct a fine header beyond Worner and inside the far post. Plainmoor was rocking for a point gained and the new season is well and truly under way.
United [4-4-2]: 13 Martin Rice; 2 Dale Tonge, 5 Krystian Pearce, 4 Aaron Downes, 3 Kevin Nicholson; 11 Courtney Cameron [12 Jordan Chapell 77], 7 Lee Mansell [capt], 8 Ben Harding, 10 Billy Bodin; 16 Callum Ball, 26 Elliot Benyon [9 Karl Hawley 68]. Substitutes [not used]: 6 Damon Lathrope, 15 Niall Thompson, 21 Thomas Cruise, 31 Daniel Sullivan, 33 Conor Thompson [GK].
Booked: Pearce 44, Downes 72
Wimbledon [4-4-2]: 1 Ross Worner; 2 Barry Fuller, 5 Andy Fampton, 6 Alan Bennett [capt], 3 Callum Kennedy; 7 George Francomb [19 Chris Arthur 68], 4 Peter Sweeney, 12 Harry Pell, 21 George Porter [18 Charlie Sheringham 68]; 9 Michael Smith [10 Jack Midson 68], 11 Luke Moore. Substitutes [not used]: 8 Sammy Moore, 15 Jim Fenlon, 17 Charlie Strutton, 22 Seb Brown [GK].
Referee: Tim Robinson
Attendance: 3,441 [772 away].