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  • Charlie Stong at Wembley Stadium

Hatters back in the big time after shoot-out win over Coventry


Coventry City 1 (Hamer 66)

Luton Town 1 (Clark 23)

Luton win 6-5 on penalties

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Luton Town are in the Premier League after substitute Fankaty Dabo missed the crucial penalty kick for Coventry in the cruellest of ends to the Championship play-off final at Wembley today.


What a way to win - and lose - the ultimate jackpot game, which is now worth an estimated £170m to Luton over the next three years.


The Sky Blues’ efforts to climb up the Championship table from a precarious position in the relegation zone in the autumn, to the heady heights of the play-offs in the spring, were remarkable for a club which has recovered from liquidation just 10 years ago.


But the tears of their fans at the end recognised that it may be a long time before they get close again – both these teams knew that was a possibility.


For Luton, the hats were flying, and they will be flying off the shelves before the start of their first Premier League campaign in late summer.


The 120 minutes was a contrast of styles, Luton’s direct, muscular approach against the Sky Blues’ more patient build-up.


The orange-clad Hatters started the brighter of the two, having the ball in the net after just five minutes.


Defender Tom Lockyer nodded the ball towards goal, the ball crept over the line, but referee Michael Oliver had blown for a foul by Lockyer as he rose to head the ball.


Skipper Lockyer was stretchered off within a couple of minutes of the restart. Completely off the ball, the centre half stumbled, then collapsed to the ground, in a shocking moment reminiscent of those suffered by Christian Eriksen and Fabrice Muamba in recent years.


Thankfully Luton later reported that Lockyer was conscious and talking to his family from his hospital bed.


The Hatters’ direct approach was reaping more rewards in the early stages. Pelly-Ruddock Mpanzu, who has been with the Bedfordshire team since their days in the Conference 10 years ago, completely miss-kicking a good chance from the edge of the box midway through the first half.


But they deservedly took the lead with the next attack. Another long ball from the back this time found Elijah Adebayo, who twisted and turned his defender before finding Jordan Clark, who worked the ball on to his left foot and smashed it past Ben Wilson.


Luton’s long balls were causing all sorts of problems for the Sky Blues’ defenders, and Adebayo wasted a glorious chance to put them further ahead shortly before the half-hour when he lobbed a bouncing ball over the head of the marooned Wilson, but wide of the left-hand post.


Adebayo nodded another chance just wide of the upright as Luton went for the second, possibly decisive goal.


The ball was in the Coventry net for a third time just before the break, but for the second time the goal was ruled out, Callum Doyle’s goal-line clearance bouncing back off the arm of Adebayo and into the goal. There were no complaints from the Hatters.


The Coventry fans sensed that they would have to play their part if their side were to have any say in the game, and they came to life as the clock ticked down to 45.


Their team responded, but Gustavo Hamer couldn’t quite get his body over the top of the ball at the far post and only succeeded in volleying over the bar.


For the first time in the game at the start of the second half, Luton’s defence were suddenly all at sea. Goalkeeper Ethan Horvath and Gabriel Osho got in each other’s way, the ball bouncing towards the Luton goal but no City player was on hand to tap home.


Gradually the pattern of the game was changing. The Sky Blues fans were finding their voice. And after 65 minutes their heroes found the equaliser.


Hamer was beautifully set-up by Viktor Gyokeres down the left, and the Dutch U20 international stroked the ball cleanly past Horvath to send the City end wild and the blue smoke wafting across the famous old stadium.


The action was end-to-end thereafter and either side could have won it, but ultimately an extra 30 minutes was required.


Gyokeres was causing the Luton defence all sorts of problems and his shot on the turn shortly after the restart was dealt with less than convincingly by Horvath.


The Luton defence then parted for Coventry skipper Liam Kelly, but his shot was poor, curling well wide as the players were noticeable tiring.


In truth little else happened in extra-time until almost the most dramatic of endings with three minutes left to play. Coventry substitute Jonathan Panzo was caught in possession by Joe Taylor, who buried his shot past Ben Wilson in the Coventry goal.


But the Coventry tears turned to joy as VAR spotted a foul on Panzo as Taylor challenged for the ball and to penalties we went.


The 10 players who had volunteered all scored, as did Dan Potts, son of West Ham legend Steve, but poor Dabo’s shot was high and wide, and his team will be in the Championship once again next year.


For Luton, who knows what riches may await them in the big time?


Teams:

Coventry: Wilson, Doyle (Panzo, 115), McFadzean, Kelly, Norton-Cuffy (Dabo, f-t), Allen (Godden, 45), Sheaf, McNally, Gyokeres, Bidwell, Hamer (Palmer, 80, Eccles, 102)

Luton: Horvath, Drameh, Lockyer (Burke, 12), Morris, Adebayo (Taylor, 105), Nakamba, Mpanzu (Berry, 98), Clark, Bell, Osho (Potts, 112), Doughty (Onyedinma, 84)

Referee: Michael Oliver

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