Luton Town are back in the top flight of English football for the first time in 31 years. Over the last nine years, the Hatters have battled back from the National League all the way to the top division. They have been led to the promised land by a manager in Rob Edwards who started the season at their great rivals, Watford. Luton beat Coventry City 6-5 on penalties after a 1-1 Championship Play-Off final shorn of the usual affectations. There was no parachute-payment laden fallen giant in this final. This time, the £170 million game was played between two teams who had seen football at its brutal worst. Coventry had been homeless in recent years while Luton’s very existence had been risked. The only sadness was that both these remarkable clubs couldn’t drink from the Premier League chalice.
Luton looked like they had engineered a dream start when they had the ball in the net in the opening minutes. Jordan Clark’s corner was headed down by Tom Lockyer. Gabriel Osho turned it over the line but was flagged offside.
Worrying scenes unfolded moments later when Lockyer went to the floor. He received treatment from medical staff representing both teams and left the field on a stretcher. Reportedly, he received further treatment from Wembley Stadium staff upon leaving the pitch. Lockyer was replaced by Reece Burke.
Luton poured forward as they took the game to Coventry. Carlton snatched at his shot after a defensive mix-up, sending it just wide. He would fire his next chance over the bar after receiving a fine Pelly Ruddock Mpanzu pass. The supplier was vying to play Premier League football, having represented Luton at every level from the National League to the Championship.
Kyle McFadzean lost out to Adebayo, whose control and power gave him the space to cross to Clark. The winger fired the ball home with venom, the sort of chest-thumping goal that defines occasions like this. A ball struck so hard the momentum would have carried it clear out of the stadium had the net not prevented its flight.
Luton will wonder how they went in at half time only leading by a single goal. Coventry briefly had to pick the ball out of their net again, when Alfie Doughty’s shot was cleared onto Adebayo’s arm and over the line. The goal was rightly ruled out, but Luton will have rued their bad luck.
Coventry did finally muster a shot just before the break, as Jake Bidwell’s cross was fired over by the much-talked-about Gustavo Hamer. With the space he had been afforded he really should have done better, however harsh parity would have been on the dominant Hammers.
Coventry started the second period with greater emphasis. Viktor Gyokeres caused chaos in the Luton backline, with Osho nearly deflecting the ball into his own net in the confusion. Liam Kelly drove an attempt over the bar moments later as the Sky Blues warmed to the task. Brooke Norton-Cuffy’s whipped cross towards Hamer caused a Luton scramble too. Whatever Mark Robins said at half time appeared to have had a positive effect on his players.
This bright start to the half paid off when Coventry levelled. A fast break saw Doyle slide in Gyokeres. The square ball to Hamer was dispatched with aplomb. A neat, side-footed finish that took the play away from goalkeeper Ethan Horvath. A well-worked goal from front to back and a vital lifeline for the Sky Blues.
An awkward landing had Hamer leaving the pitch in tears, injured and gutted at not being able to further advance the Coventry cause. Not that the travelling fans begrudged his already-vast contributions. He would be replaced by Kasey Palmer.
It would have come as a surprise after how one-sided the first half was but this game found its way to extra time. Coventry’s vastly-improved second half display meant we would be gifted an extra half-hour of this engaging fixture.
Luton fans roared thinking they might have had a penalty when Clark got the wrong side of the Coventry defence. He went down under a challenge from goalkeeper Ben Wilson but the referee booked the Hatters captain for simulation. That was the closest either side came in the first half of extra time.
This tightly-contested game almost came down to a moment of madness and a moment of brilliance. Jonathan Panzo was dispossessed by Joe Taylor, who slotted his finish home brilliantly. Unfortunately for him and Luton Town, the youngster was adjudged to have handled the ball before putting it into the Coventry net. The goal was rightly ruled out as penalties became a very real proposition.
So it would prove, as this play-off final came down to penalty kicks. After ten perfect kicks left things pitched at 5-5 it fell to Dan Potts to open the sudden death portion. While he put his penalty away perfectly, Fankaty Dabo missed his follow-up. The Hatters, a non-league club less than a decade ago, are back in the top flight. A team that got relegated in 1992, they finally get to taste the Premier League having missed out by a matter of months.
*18+ | BeGambleAware | Odds Subject To Change