Luton win penalty shootout to reach Premier League

Coventry's Fankaty Dabo blasted the 12th penalty kick in the shootout over the crossbar.

In Summary
  • Gustavo Hamer equalised for Coventry to cancel out a first-half strike from Jordan Clark as the game finished in a 1-1 draw after 120 minutes.
  • Both goals came after Luton lost captain Tom Lockyer early on after he collapsed on the pitch but the defender was taken to hospital where the club have confirmed that he is "responsive and talking" to his family, who are with him.

Luton Town completed their journey from non-league to Premier League as they beat Coventry City 6-5 on penalties to win the Championship play-off final at Wembley.

Gustavo Hamer equalised for Coventry to cancel out a first-half strike from Jordan Clark as the game finished in a 1-1 draw after 120 minutes.

Both goals came after Luton lost captain Tom Lockyer early on after he collapsed on the pitch but the defender was taken to hospital where the club have confirmed that he is "responsive and talking" to his family, who are with him.

Coventry's Fankaty Dabo blasted the 12th penalty kick in the shootout over the crossbar to send the happy Hatters to the Premier League for the first time.

Having last been in English football's top flight in 1992, the year the Premier League began, Luton have waited 31 years to take their place at the top table.

Luton edge first half in game of two halves

Away from the tightly packed, raucous atmosphere of Kenilworth Road, there was a slight concern that Luton might struggle in the more vast open spaces of Wembley.

But Luton were way the more dominant side before the break.

Aside from the one goal they did score, they had two more disallowed - and a string of other dangerous moments too.

Not even the early loss of defensive linchpin Lockyer could halt their flow.

Within eight minutes of the Wales international collapsing and being stretchered off, the Hatters were ahead when bustling striker Elijah Adebayo caused havoc, carving out the opening for Clark to run on down the inside-left channel and smash home a stunning left-foot screamer just inside the left upright.

But towards the break, and especially into the eight minutes of stoppage time because of the Lockyer situation, Coventry began to threaten.

Hamer powered a volley just over after the ball had come at an awkward height and then loan-signing Brooke Norton-Cuffy almost weaved a way through with one mesmeric run.

Sky Blues hit back with Hamer stunner

It was the same flow pattern at the start of the second half as Coventry restarted well, with an extra striker on in Matty Godden.

And, 21 minutes after the restart, at a similar time to the Luton first-half opener, Coventry were level with a not dissimilarly constructed goal.

Top scorer Viktor Gyokeres was played into space down the left, he held the ball up and turned it back into the path of Hamer, who put enough bend on his measured side-foot finish to find the bottom-right corner.

Godden then fired just over - and the 90 minutes, extended by another eight minutes of time added on, ended with both sides still desperately searching for a winner.

Gyokeres' low right-foot shot tested Horvath at his near post at the start of extra time.

Then Luton thought they had it won in the second period of extra time when substitute Joseph Taylor pounced on a mistake by Jonathan Panzo and ran on to fire the ball past City keeper Ben Wilson, but the goal was disallowed for a handball.

Instead, it was on to penalties - and all went to plan with the first 10 regulation spot-kicks.

Carlton Morris, Taylor, Marvelous Nakamba, Clark and Luke Berry all netted superbly for Luton, cancelled out by similarly well-struck efforts from Coventry's chosen quintet, Godden, Gyokeres, Ben Sheaf, Josh Eccles and skipper Liam Kelly.

But, when it went to sudden death, Luton sub Dan Potts converted - before the luckless Dabo hit his effort high and wide.

Luton win the battle of the 'hard-luck' stories

Both this season's league meetings between Luton and Coventry had ended in a draw, so it was no surprise that they could not be separated over 120 minutes.

Two sides with more illustrious pasts, Wembley cup final winners respectively within a year of each other - Coventry lifting the FA Cup in 1987 and Luton prevailing in the 1988 League Cup - both trying to get back to the top flight just five years after getting promoted together from League Two.

But in the end it was the unfancied Bedfordshire side who picked the lock on a windfall, estimated by Deloitte to be worth at least £170m across the next three seasons.

For starters it would help fund the building of the new stadium that is central to Luton's plans and seen as the key to securing their future - although that is not likely to be ready for another three years and they will first have to spend as estimated £10m renovating their comparatively dilapidated back-street Kenilworth Road home.

They will still have the smallest ground capacity in the top flight next season, but it is all still a far cry from when they dropped out of the Football League in 2009, before taking five seasons to get back in 2014, eventually under John Still.

They took the next two steps under Jones, back-to-back promotions in 2018 and 2019 before he moved on to Stoke.

Having returned for a second spell to establish the Hatters as Championship promotion contenders, Jones then moved on again.

But, since Edwards took over, he has presided over 18 wins and just six defeats from his 35 matches in charge.

Wembley defeat so cruel on Coventry

Defeat for Coventry for the first time in a Wembley final was particularly cruel.

Their fans have had a tortuous time of it since being relegated from the Premier League in 2001.

In 2005 they were forced to leave their Highfield Road home, then two years later they were saved from potential extinction by just minutes following Sisu's late takeover.

In 2013 they sought refuge from their ongoing rent row with the local council by moving to Northampton.

They moved back to their home at the Ricoh Arena the following year, with fellow tenants Wasps now their new landlords.

But in 2019 they had to move again, with two seasons spent at Birmingham City's St Andrew's ground.

They then found themselves bottom of the league, without a pitch, at the start of this season, when they had to postpone four home games, playing six of their first seven away.

And they were then even briefly without a ground too when they were served with the threat of an eviction by the stadium's new owners.

But boss Mark Robins and his assistant manager Adi Viveash, both rewarded in the last fortnight with new four-year contracts, did a brilliant job turning their season round - and the club were put even more firmly back on the rails when new owner Doug King took over in January.

In the short term, failing to go up might yet cost them the services of their much admired star striker Gyokeres, who failed to score in the Sky Blues final five games, and Brazilian playmaker Hamer.

But Robins and his team have won back the Coventry fans - and they will start next season among the promotion Championship favourites.

Luton head coach Rob Edwards told BBC Three Counties Radio:

"We lost our captain and best player [Tom Lockyer] after four or five minutes. All I've been thinking about since the final whistle is that. Health is more important than anything.

"We lost Tom, but recovered really well after that and showed a lot of emotional strength and character.

"The performance in the first half was excellent. They had the first 20-25 minutes of the second half and got the goal but we started wrestling back some momentum and then obviously it was tight.

"I'm so proud to be a part of this club. The players, the staff, the board, the supporters, they deserve to enjoy this, they've been through a lot."

Sky Blues boss Mark Robins told BBC Coventry and Warwickshire:

"We've got to take our medicine but I've said to the players that once the pain subsides, they've got to use it as fuel to come back stronger.

"They know now what it feels [like] to lose a final like that - and it was very tight, apart from the first half when we didn't really show up.

"Second half, I thought we were much better and it looked like when we got back into the game there was only going to be one winner. But the fact that Gustavo [Hamer] got injured and then we had to take him off, it swung the impetus back in their favour a bit.

"He [Dabo] is distraught but every one of them that stepped up [to take a penalty kick], especially at that end in front of their supporters, was so brave."

But they were still in the fifth tier only nine years ago after a decade of financial hardship.

And, in becoming the first side to go all the way from the top tier to non-league and back, it completed a remarkable achievement for Luton boss Rob Edwards, who began this season as manager of the Hatters' fierce local rivals Watford.

Just a year on from managing Forest Green to the League Two title, Edwards won his second successive promotion.

He left Forest Green to take on the Watford job at the end of last season, but was then sacked in late September.

He then returned to management in November when Nathan Jones walked out on Luton for a second time - and Edwards has now masterminded the completion of one of football's great journeys.