Luton Town now know they will meet Sunderland in the Championship play-offs over the next eight days as the battle to claim the final place in next season’s Premier League begins.
For the Hatters it would be a first appearance back in the top flight since their 1992 relegation just ahead of the institution of the FA Premier League. And their place in the end-of-season deciders also continues an incredible run which has seen them improve on their final league position for seven consecutive years.
Yet they are not the holders of the current high mark in England’s top four divisions, as The Sportsman’s rundown of the country’s most continuously improving clubs shows…
Stockport County – 9 seasons of progression
2013/14: 14th in National League North
2014/15: 11th in National League North
2015/16: 9th in National League North
2016/17: 8th in National League North
2017/18: 5th in National League North
2018/19: 1st in National League North
2019/20: 8th in National League
2020/21: 3rd in National League
2021/22: 1st in National League
2022/23: 4th in League Two
County have gone from the obscurity that is mid-table in the sixth tier to a play-off encounter with Salford City in the space of nine seasons. While their initial progress through the National League North was slow, two promotions in four seasons and a near-miss on the automatic spots for League One show that Stockport is a club on the up.
Luton Town – 7 seasons
2015/16: 11th in League Two
2016/17: 4th in League Two
2017/18: 2nd in League Two
2018/19: 1st in League One
2019/20: 19th in Championship
2020/21: 12th in Championship
2021/22: 6th in Championship
2022/23: 3rd in Championship
Nobody could have predicted by in 2015 that within eight years Luton would be on the brink of the Premier League. But after John Still’s departure in 2015-16, Nathan Jones and Mick Harford helped them climb two divisions and Rob Edwards could well now take them to the promised land.
Coventry City – 5 seasons
2017/18: 6th in League Two
2018/19: 8th in League One
2019/20: 1st in League One
2020/21: 16th in Championship
2021/22: 12th in Championship
2022/23: 5th in Championship
Mark Robins has done one hell of a job at the CBS Arena, and the Sky Blues are now one of the clubs competing to pip Luton to the top flight. After 22 years away it feels like a long time coming, yet no Coventry fan would have counted on it being so quick back in 2017.
Plymouth Argyle – 3 seasons (4th guaranteed)
2019/20: 3rd in League Two
2020/21: 18th in League One
2021/22: 7th in League One
2022/23: 1st in League One
(2023/24: Higher finish guaranteed)
After an astonishing 101-point campaign which saw them consign Ipswich Town and Sheffield Wednesday to second and third respectively despite their own high points tallies, Plymouth are guaranteed to finish a fourth straight season higher in the pyramid than they started it. Ryan Lowe might have left them for Preston North End in the midst of 2021-22, but Stephen Schumacher has ensured that the Pilgrims haven’t missed a beat since.
Newcastle United – 3 seasons
2019/20: 13th in Premier League
2020/21: 12th in Premier League
2021/22: 11th in Premier League
2022/23: Cannot finish lower than 7th in Premier League
There’s progress, and then there’s progress. After very, very gradual improvement between 2019 and 2022, the Magpies have really taken off this term and it would be a huge surprise now were they to miss out on a Champions League spot. Given their cash injection from the Saudi Public Investment Fund there’s every chance they’ll keep getting stronger.
@trippier2 has been named in the starting XI of the @EASPORTSFIFA PL Team of the Season!
Congratulations, Tripps! 🙌
Middlesbrough – 3 seasons
2019/20: 17th in Championship
2020/21: 10th in Championship
2021/22: 7th in Championship
2022/23: 4th in Championship
Boro were an outside shot for automatic promotion at one point under Michael Carrick, but even after nestling in behind Luton in the play-off spots there is a clear sign of progress whatever the post-season shoot-out brings.
Forest Green Rovers – 3 seasons
2019/20: 10th in League Two
2020/21: 6th in League Two
2021/22: 1st in League Two
2022/23: 24th in League One
Perversely, Forest Green reached their highest ever league position in 2022-23 even as they disappeared with little in the way of a fight in the first League One campaign. Under Duncan Ferguson it is to be hoped that they can keep the fulcrum of a talented squad and have a good go at another League Two title in 2024. This is another run Luton's Rob Edwards had a hand in building.
You're all a huge credit to our football club.
Here's to better times next season.
Manchester City – 2 seasons (3rd possible in 2022-23)
2019/20: 2nd in Premier League
2020/21: 1st in Premier League – 86 points
2021/22: 1st in Premier League – 93 points
2022/23: Possible to finish 1st in Premier League with 94 points
City might have bossed the land over the last few years, but in terms of points tallies they continue to outdo the previous version of themselves, and if they win out in their remaining fixtures of 2022-23 it will be another forward step and a third straight title since missing out to Liverpool in ’19-20.
*18+ | BeGambleAware | Odds Subject to Change