Luton reach the Premier League after shoot-out victory against Coventry
By Simon Peach, PA Chief Football Writer
Luton completed their fairy-tale rise from non-league to Premier League with a dramatic, sudden-death penalty shoot-out victory against Coventry in the Sky Bet Championship play-off final.
Just nine years on from ending their five-season stretch in the Conference Premier, the Hatters are celebrating returning to the top-flight for the first time since 1992.
Previous point deductions and disappointments were left in the rear-view mirror at Wembley, where Jordan Clark’s opener was cancelled out by Coventry favourite Gustavo Hamer.
The match finished 1-1 after extra-time and Fankaty Dabo’s penalty miss meant a famous 6-5 sudden-death shoot-out victory for jubilant Luton.
It was a cruel way for the season to end – a £170 million clash between clubs that have both gone through the mill during their decades away from the big time.
These teams were promoted from League Two together in 2018 and the latter went into half-time ahead, with Clark scoring a deserved opened for the dominant Hatters.
Rob Edwards’ side rallied impressively after captain Tom Lockyer’s concerning early collapse, but Coventry improved after the break.
Hamer, City’s semi-final hero against Middlesbrough, impressively levelled as the match went to extra-time.
Luton thought they had won it in the 116th minute through Joe Taylor, only for the VAR to find the youngster had handled when dispossessing Jonathan Panzo.
Promotion went down to penalties and Coventry substitute Dabo was first to miss, securing Luton’s promotion to the Premier League. The players held up Lockyer’s shirt as they celebrated in front of their fans.
Both managers stuck with the players that sealed their ticket to Wembley, where Gabriel Osho thought he had put his side into an early lead.
The Luton defender bundled home following a Lockyer header, but the goal was ruled out for offside.
Frustration quickly turned to concern as the Luton skipper fell to the floor when running back.
A hush fell upon Wembley as Lockyer underwent treatment before leaving on a stretcher and being replaced by Reece Burke.
Luton later confirmed their captain had been taken to hospital for further tests, saying “he is responsive and talking to his family, who are with him”.
Town stood up in their captain’s absence and heaped pressure on Coventry, with top scorer Carlton Morris hooking wide and seeing another attempt blocked.
Coventry were struggling to get out of their own half and were caught out in the 23rd minute on one of the few occasions they did.
A long ball down the left flank was held up superbly by Elijah Adebayo, who played in Clark to lash home at the near post.
Luton fans thought the net would bulge again six minutes later but Adebayo lifted wide as he attempted to beat goalkeeper Ben Wilson.
Shell-shocked Coventry could not get going and Adebayo had no arguments after seeing a goal ruled out for turning in Callum Doyle’s clearance with his arm.
City’s only shot of the opening period followed as Hamer hammered over, but boss Mark Robins had them revived after the break.
Luton’s hearts were in their mouths when Ethan Horvath’s clearance ballooned off a team-mate and out of harm’s way, before Liam Kelly and Luke McNally had attempts.
Coventry’s increased attacking intent brought about a 66th-minute leveller in front of their travelling hordes.
Viktor Gyokeres was put through down the left and the frontman cut back for Hamer to level with a low first-time strike.
Substitute Matt Godden took a touch and lifted over as Coventry searched for a quick-fire second but play soon became broken up as tension ratcheted up.
Hamer went off injured and both sides seemed more intent to not lose than to win it. Clark missed a free-kick and Godden volleyed wide as the match went to extra-time.
Gyokeres got away a fierce effort that Horvath eventually got hold of in the first period, before Luton’s Clark was booked for diving in the box. Replays appeared to show goalkeeper Wilson caught him, if only just.
Exhausted players continued to require treatment or replacement as the second half of extra-time came and went.
Luton thought they had won it in the most dramatic fashion in the 116th minute, but the VAR saw Taylor had handled when dispossessing Panzo before firing home.
The final whistle saw all eyes focused on the Luton end of the stadium for the shoot-out, where Dabo missed after the first 11 spot-kicks were coolly converted.