LONDON — Luton Town have been promoted to the Premier League after edging Coventry City 6-5 on penalties following a nervy 1-1 draw at Wembley Stadium. Luton opened the scoring on 23 minutes to send the sun-baked side of Wembley into raptures as Elijah Adebayo set up Jordan Clark to power a strike home, and Coventry looked stunned by the occasion.
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However, the Sky Blues responded in the second half with a fantastic counter-attacking goal that saw star men combine, with Viktor Gyokeres teeing up Gustavo Hamer to fire home.
After being locked into a low-energy extra-time draw, Luton looked to have snatched it late on with Joe Taylor pouncing on a defensive mistake, but VAR deemed the substitute to have committed a handball in the build-up. With the shoot-out locked into sudden death, it was Luton who prevailed with a series of stunning spot kicks to book their place in England’s top flight for the first time since 1992.
For whoever emerged victorious at Wembley Stadium on Saturday, the result would be transformative for the future of the club. Just over five years ago, Luton and Coventry shared the spoils in a League Two match which helped both towards their eventual promotions. Given their recent history, their respective crises — the fact both battled in football’s most lucrative event deems “one for the romantics” a sizeable understatement. Having a minimum of £170 million on the line ensures a high-stakes affair for any club. But particularly for Luton and Coventry, given little time has passed since their very existences seemed tenuous.
While Coventry now must deal with the heartbreak of falling just short, the Premier League can celebrate its newest addition — one that hasn’t seen top-flight football since the division’s formation in 1992. Luton have defied the odds by achieving promotion with a relative shoestring budget. In recent years, they have been deceptively quiet while operating in an extremely competent manner. Now, with promotion to the Premier League and the financial injection it brings, it is not too far-fetched to claim they can follow the moulds of clubs like Brentford or Brighton & Hove Albion.
Anybody with a social media presence will surely be aware of what Kenilworth Road will bring to the Premier League. The smallest stadium to ever host a Premier League match — with an away end that somewhat intrusively backs onto the gardens of locals. Their presence is unconventional, but their ambitions are quite familiar. Their promotion, and the wealth that accompanies, will fast-track their move to new stadium Power Court, one more suited to top-flight football. Then, Luton in the Premier League would not seem such a far-fetched fantasy. They now have the chance to establish themselves.
Amid the rapturous atmosphere of a sold-out Wembley Stadium and the sport’s biggest prize on the line, Mpanzu looked unfazed in the middle of the park. Cool, composed and wiry as ever, the midfielder knew what was on the line — but he didn’t show it.
The 29-year-old became the first-ever player to be promoted from England’s nonleague system to the Premier League all with the same club. To mark the occasion further, he even captained his side into extra time at Wembley Stadium, assuming the armband from Tom Lockyer, who went down worryingly inside 11 minutes under no contact before being taken to hospital.
Mpanzu has seen it all since joining Luton as a West Ham United cast-off in 2013. From the rough-and-tumble of the fifth tier against sides such as Nuneaton Town, Hereford United and Braintree Town to now preparing to face England’s most illustrious clubs, Mpanzu’s ability to adapt to each level cannot be understated, nor can the trust Luton have installed in the midfielder. Each level of the football pyramid requires a different skill set — the nonleague system poses a far larger test physically, for example — but Mpanzu has stood up to everything thrown at him, as evidenced by his cool display at Wembley on Saturday. Mpanzu is just one of a number of examples of how Luton have expertly navigated the EFL system in their meteoric rise from the fifth tier.
Adebayo, who expertly set up Clark for the opening goal, was playing League Two football as recently at 2021 with Walsall. Clark himself underwent a Joelinton-esque position change following his move from Accrington Stanley under previous boss Nathan Jones. Luton have shown miraculous knowhow in the progression of players from the lower level. Given the financial prize of their Premier League promotion, this may no longer be necessary — but it’s unlikely their policy will change.
Coventry are in a significantly superior state to where they were when the 2022-23 season commenced. Their financial position is finally stable, and the ownership regime is one that supporters can rally to support. The club have been galvanised by the ongoing efforts of manager Mark Robins and the new owner Doug King, who rendered the club debt-free following his takeover in January.
The newfound stability has given the club a footing to make challenging for Premier League status no longer a far-fetched dream. But this summer is likely to answer questions as to whether they can immediately bounce back from the disappointment of defeat at Wembley.
Star men Gyokeres and Hamer have been instrumental in the success of Robins’ side this season and with the club remaining in the Championship for another season, they may well have scuppered their chances of keeping the two on board in the future. Robins has transformed both into players who can create something out of nothing. Look no further than their brilliant understanding in combination for the levelling goal against Luton. Gyokeres scored 21 goals and assisted 11 in the regular season while Hamer notched 10 on both fronts. The latter scored Coventry’s two play-off goals and has been a relative surprise package with his forward exploits from midfield.
Robins has shown in his stint as boss that he invests in continuity. He will be battling the hardest to keep his key men at the club over the summer. And if the club manage to hold onto their star duo, it will show how far the club have come since their very existence seemed under threat just a few years ago.
Elijah Adebayo, FW, Luton Town: A constant thorn in Coventry’s side. Provided a stunning assist for the opening goal and came close to scoring on a couple of occasions.
Viktor Gyokeres, FW, Coventry City: The Coventry top scorer came alive in the second half and set up Hamer for the equaliser. He was essential to his side’s counter-attacking style.
Jordan Clark, MF, Luton Town: Was a live wire in midfield and helped to drive Luton forward. Dispatched his goal expertly.
Kyle McFadzean, DF, Coventry City: Bullied by Adebayo in the lead-up to the opening goal.
Kasey Palmer, MF, Coventry City: Came on as an 80th-minute substitute and was taken off 12 minutes into extra time without having any effect on the game.
Fankaty Dabo, DF, Coventry City: Came on as a substitute and didn’t impact the game before missing the decisive penalty.
After winning on penalties, Luton Town gained promotion to the Premier League.
Luton’s Kenilworth Road will host some of the world’s best teams next season.
Luton’s journey up the English football pyramid to the Premier League has been remarkable.
Coventry manager Mark Robins: “Firstly congratulations to Luton because once the game is over and done with you gotta congratulate the winners and they’ve come out on top today however tight the game may be. They’ve been outstanding all season and good luck to them moving forward.
“For us, certainly the opposite of joy is pain. You certainly feel a bit of pain. Once that pain starts to dissipate in however long it takes for it to go, you’ve got to reflect on what an unbelievable achievement its been just to even be here today. Unfortunately we couldn’t make that next step, but when you don’t do that it means you’re just not quite ready for it.
“I thought we were as poor as we’ve been [in first half]. To get in at 1-0 was a relief had to sort of try and speak to them and give them the right information and ask a few questions of them and we came out second half and played the way we know we can play.”