Luton Town have completed a fairy-tale return to the top-flight of English football after beating Coventry City on penalties in the Championship play-off final.
Roared on by 36,000 Town supporters soaked in the late May sun, Rob Edwards’ team showed their nerve at Wembley as they defeated the Sky Blues 6-5 on spot-kicks.
A decade ago the Hatters had just finished their fourth consecutive season in the Conference Premier in seventh, the club’s lowest ever league position.
Fast forward to now – four promotions and one Pelly Ruddock Mpanzu later – the Hatters can look forward to their first ever campaign in the Premier League, a division they voted to create, but never played in after suffering relegation the season before its launch.
A lot of water has flowed under the bridge in those 31 years since – a special mention for a 30-point deduction – but the weight of history was shrugged off by the Hatters.
Had you’d told Rob Edwards before kick-off that his team would have found the back of the net three times before half-time, he’d have no doubt bitten your hand off, but Town would go in at the break with just a one-goal lead.
The ball was in the Coventry goal after just five minutes when Tom Lockyer met Clark’s corner, nodding it down to Gabe Osho who scrambled it over the line, but the assistant referee’s flag went up for offside. VAR, in use for all three EFL play-offs had a brief look, confirming Osho’s foot was just beyond the last defender.
The brief adulation for the Town supporters immediately turned to concern as skipper Lockyer went down off the ball with just eight minutes on the clock. After four minutes of treatment he was stretchered off and replaced by Reece Burke.
Carlton Morris had his own slice of history to deal with having ruptured his ACL on his last visit to Wembley in Shrewsbury’s League One play-off final defeat to Rotherham in 2019. He had all the confidence of a man who had netted 20 Championship goals this season though, as he acrobatically capitalised on a mix-up between Coventry keeper Ben Wilson and defender Luke McNally, but directed his effort narrowly wide of the bottom right corner.
The striker then brought down Mpanzu’s cross after the Town midfielder pounced on Callum Doyle’s weak clearance, but Morris saw his thumped effort blocked behind for a corner.
Edwards’ side’s dominance was rewarded after 23 minutes. A piece of play that would have had some Championship managers frothing at the mouth saw Alfie Doherty’s ball down the flank controlled by Elijah Adebayo who chopped past Kyle McFadzean before picking out the run of Clark who fired in at Wilson’s near post.
Town had the ball in the back of the Sky Blues’ net again with half-time approaching, but this time Callum Doyle’s goal-line clearance deflected in off Adebayo’s elbow, leaving referee Michael Oliver with little choice but to rule it out.
Coventry’s first chance of the day should have yielded a goal as Jake Bidwell’s cross was met by Gustavo Hamer at the back post on the half volley, but the Brazilian steered it over.
City’s first half performance would have frustrated Mark Robins, but his team’s response in the second was more than admirable as they took control of proceedings for a 25 minute spell.
Ethan Horvath had enjoyed a fairly quiet afternoon for the first hour, but he was picking the ball out of the back of his net with 25 minutes to play. Viktor Gyokeres justified Premier League clubs’ interest in him as he muscled his way down the flank before picking out Hamer on the edge of the box who found the bottom right corner, with a nick off the inside of Osho’s knee just pushing it beyond the reach of Town’s American stopper.
Town grew back into the contest after that, but as the half wore on it was clear that fatigue was playing a role as players from both sides began to feel the effects of cramp, with 90 minutes of football not enough to split the teams.
15 minutes of extra-time came and went, but with penalties looking a certainty, Jonathan Panzo was caught in possession by substitute Joe Taylor who sprinted through on goal and squeezed a low effort past Wilson to send the orange half of Wembley into pandemonium, only for VAR to intervene and rule it out for the ball touching Taylor’s arm as it bounced up off Panzo.
And so it proved, penalties would be the decider. Dan Potts won the coin toss and chose Town’s half to take spot-kicks in front of.
Morris, Taylor, Marvellous Nakamba, Clark, Luke Berry and Potts all converted from the penalty spot, before Fankaty Dabo skied from 12 yards to put Luton into the Premier League.
Dreams come true.
Luton Town: Horvath, Drameh, Osho (Potts 112), Lockyer (Burke 12), Bell, Doughty (Onyedinma 84), Nakamba, Mpanzu (Berry 98), Clark, Morris, Adebayo (Taylor 106).
Substitutes: Shea, Potts, Berry, Burke, Campbell, Onyedinma, Taylor.