Coventry City and Luton Town will go head-to-head at Wembley Stadium for a place in the Premier League.
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At Wembley Stadium on Saturday, Coventry City and Luton Town will contest the most lucrative – and one of the most consequential – games in world football.
The Championship play-off final is always a great occasion and this year’s edition looks particularly intriguing.
In recent years we have grown accustomed to at least one finalist being a club with recent Premier League experience.
Things are different this time around. Coventry have not played top-flight football since they were relegated from the Premier League in 2000/01. Luton have been absent from the division since the 1991/92 campaign.
Whatever happens this weekend, both teams have enjoyed fantastic seasons.
Coventry were in the relegation zone in November, although that was in large part down to four postponements due to the poor state of their pitch.
That was just the latest example of the significant off-field turmoil Coventry have had to deal with in recent years. As a result of the ongoing distractions, a mid-table finish would have been widely seen as a decent outcome this term.
As for Luton, they were a non-league outfit as recently as 2013/14. In 2018 they were still in League Two.
The Hatters reached the Championship play-offs last season but were edged out by Huddersfield Town in the semis. They were punching above their weight back then, so to kick on and go one better in 2022/23 is a fantastic achievement.
Against the odds, one of these sides will seal a place in the Premier League this weekend. Which will it be?
This promises to be an engaging encounter between two teams who have enjoyed excellent seasons in the Championship.
When Luton lost their influential manager Nathan Jones in November, the wheels could easily have come off their season.
The lure of Southampton proved too strong for Jones to resist. When the Welshman departed, Luton were ninth in the table and two points adrift of the play-off places.
The Hatters made a big call in turning to Rob Edwards, who had recently been sacked by their arch-rivals Watford. It proved to be a masterstroke.
From the day Edwards was handed control, only Burnley and Sheffield United collected more points than Luton. They duly ended the regular season in third; had Edwards arrived earlier, they might even have caught United in the second automatic promotion berth.
Only Burnley had a better defensive record than Luton post-Edwards appointment. With their organisation and physical power, they are a tough team to play against.
So too are Coventry, who ended the campaign in fantastic form. A side that was in the bottom half of the standings as recently as mid-February surged into the play-offs on the back of a run of just one defeat in their final 17 games.
Strong on the counter-attack and with a never-say-die attitude, the Sky Blues are an excellent team at this level.
But Luton accumulated 10 more points than their fellow finalists after 46 rounds of fixtures, and we think they have the edge on Saturday.
Because the stakes are so high with a place in the Premier League up for grabs, Championship play-off finals tend to be cagey, low-scoring affairs.
Eight of the last 10 editions have featured under 2.5 goals. The last time both sides scored twice each was 2011, when Swansea City beat Reading 4-2.
Saturday’s showdown will probably follow the same pattern. Both managers would love to see their teams make a flying start, but Mark Robins and Edwards will be more focused on not giving anything away early on.
Coventry will feel particularly strong about that point given they conceded three goals inside the first 15 minutes of their two previous matches against Luton this term.
Both of those games ended with the scores level, which further illustrates there is little to choose between the sides.
Moreover, 22 of Luton’s 46 Championship games had parity at half-time, as did 21 of Coventry’s. Do not be surprised if there is nothing separating the Sky Blues and the Hatters after 45 minutes.
There will be plenty of attacking talent on the Wembley pitch on Saturday.
Viktor Gyokeres may well be a Premier League player next season whether or not Coventry go up. The Swede, whom Brighton must regret letting go of, has scored 22 goals in all competitions this term.
In an attacking midfield role behind him, Gustavo Hamer has also reached double figures – including a decisive strike against Middlesbrough in the play-off semi-finals.
Luton pack a punch in attack too. Their top scorer this term is Carlton Morris, who has made the net bulge on 20 occasions.
The striker has put in the hard yards in recent years, going on loan to the likes of York City, Shrewsbury Town and Hamilton Academical before Luton bought him from Barnsley last summer.
Morris has been superb this season and Luton will hope he can make the difference one last time this weekend.
Greg Lea is a freelance football writer from London. He predominantly covers the Premier League and has had work published by the Guardian, FourFourTwo, ESPN and others.
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