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  • Writer's pictureBy Yann Tear at Wembley Stadium

Life turns surreal as non-league Luton (in all but name) reach the Premier League

Is this the unlikeliest Championship play-off final ever?

And is it the unlikeliest outcome?

The Hatters have completed the unlikely leapfrogging of Watford to make a frankly absurd return to top flight football a reality.

Eric Morecambe would have loved it.

They needed a penalty shoot -out to get the job done after an increasingly grinding 1-1 draw with a side they had drawn with twice before already in the regular season.

And they had to do it mostly without skipper Tom Lockyer, whose worrying collapse prompted him to be stretchered off in the early stages.

Then again, nothing has quite made sense in this year's Championship denouement. The battle for the top six seemed to be a lottery. Hell, even Millwall were in with a serious shout.

Not so long ago, it would have seemed a long-shot for Luton and Coventry to meet in a League One play-off final, let alone the big one - with that estimated £170m windfall that comes from making it to the Premier League.

You need to go back to 2001 for the last time the Sky Blues played in the top flight. The Hatters were last there in 1992. As recently as five years ago, the teams were playing each other in League Two.

Given Coventry's years of uncertainty over accommodation - they ended up in various temporary homes at Northampton and Birmingham City after issues over the leasing of what was the Ricoh Arena - their heady rise under former Man United striker Mark Robins has felt nothing short of miraculous.

And yet, that is nothing compared to the rise of Luton Town.

They once famously lifted the League Cup the year after Coventry won the FA Cup, and those with a few more miles on the clock will remember the day David Pleat jigged with delight as a 1-0 win at Man City saved the Hatters from relegation.

But the modern Luton has a history which includes years of non-league football which only ended nine years ago, and a ground which is as old as the Ark and barely altered since the heydays of the 80s. The ramshackle home to 10,000 souls, at most will get a summer makeover to make it more roadworthy for the top flight. But only just.

And symbolising it all is Pelly-Ruddock Mpanzu, who has somehow been there every step of the way since the rise back up to League Two. One for the record books, and pub quizzes forever more.

For Luton's proud neighbours and bitter adversaries Watford, this has been the mother of all nightmare seasons. A dire attempt at returning to the top flight compounded by the usual revolving door of managers - with the added humiliation of having supplied the Hatters with the coach who has led them to glory.

Rob Edwards was one of those managers given little time to make his mark at Vicarage Road thanks to the impatience of the Pozzo family model and the Hornets appear to have offered the decisive ingredient the Hatters needed to get up.

It is going to be an almighty struggle to keep heads above water next season for the Hatters, but that issue is for another day. Today will be all about celebrating a crazy and unreal conclusion to the rise mostly founded on the work of Nathan Jones - before he went off to wreck his reputation at Southampton.

Welcome back Mad Hatters. The tea party to end all tea parties awaits.



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