Championship play-off final: High-risers Coventry and Luton look to take final step in Premier League bid
As recently as 2018, Coventry versus Luton was a League Two fixture. Tomorrow, the sides will face off in the most lucrative game in English football, worth £100million-plus to the winner.
The teams have punched well above their weight to reach the play-off final at Wembley.
Luton vanquished Sunderland in the semi-final to put themselves on the brink of a return to the top flight only nine years after they escaped non-League football by winning the Conference Premier.
Coventry were bottom of the Championship table as recently as October 18, having been forced to postpone four home games at the beginning of the season as the CBS Arena hosted judo, wrestling and rugby sevens at the 2022 Commonwealth Games.
Games in hand were piling up for Mark Robins’s side and their play-off tilt had yet to take off. December then saw the stadium’s latest owner — a certain Mike Ashley — threaten the club with an eviction notice, only to eventually extend their tenancy deal to five years last month.
Less than 20 years ago, Luton fell as far and as fast as English football has seen: from the second tier to the fifth between 2007 and 2009.
Much of their success since came during Nathan Jones’s two stints in charge. The Welshman was superb at Luton, and it was through his success with the Hatters that he was offered the Southampton job.
A new Welshman stands in the technical area these days, and it to much hilarity for Luton’s fans that their new boss, Rob Edwards, has guided them to a play-off final in the same season he was sacked by local rivals Watford.
Edwards’s Luton had a better record on the road this season than everyone in the Championship besides runaway winners Burnley.
Luton, too, have had stadium problems to contend with. It is no secret that the Hatters have wanted to leave their 10,300-seater Kenilworth Road home for years. Their new Power Court stadium is due to hold 19,500 fans but is unlikely to be ready before 2026. As such, Luton must fork out £10m this summer to ensure Kenilworth Road meets Premier League requirements.
The scale of what Luton have achieved is embodied by experienced midfielder Pelly Ruddock Mpanzu, who would become the first-ever player to represent the same team in every league from the fifth tier to the first if Luton prevail and he features next season.
A play-off final will feel just as surreal for Coventry fans, who did not watch their side finish in the top six of any division in the 47 years between 1971 and 2018.
One of these sides will host Manchester City and Arsenal and visit Old Trafford and Anfield next season. For the other club, sadly, it will be the cruellest heartbreak of all.