LONDON – Luton Town will play in the Premier League for the first time after beating Coventry City 6-5 on penalties in Saturday’s Championship playoff final at Wembley Stadium, earning a return to England’s top flight after a 31-year absence.
Coventry’s Fankaty Dabo blazed his spot kick over the crossbar after the shootout went into sudden death following a 1-1 draw and a tense but goalless period of extra time, when Luton’s Joe Taylor had a late goal disallowed due to handball.
A second-half equaliser from Coventry midfielder Gustavo Hamer cancelled out Jordan Clark’s brilliant opener, after Luton captain Tom Lockyer was carried off on a stretcher early on after he collapsed on the pitch.
Luton confirmed Lockyer, 28, is responsive and talking to his family after he was taken to hospital for tests. The centre back had fallen to the ground with no player around him and was treated by medical staff on the pitch.
“It feels incredible,” Luton manager Rob Edwards said. “I’ve got to be honest, the only thing I’m thinking about now is Tom Lockyer… Health is the most important thing, more important than football.”
Luton will join Burnley and Sheffield United in next season’s Premier League.
Their Kenilworth Road stadium will host top-flight soccer for the first time since 1992, when they were relegated from the Football League First Division.
Saturday’s victory caps a remarkable change in fortunes for Luton, who were playing in the fifth-tier Conference nine years ago after a decade of financial hardship.
They are the first team to go from the top tier to non-league and back.
“I’ve completed football! I’ll retire this summer,” said Pelly Ruddock Mpanzu, who has played for Luton at every level on their dizzying rise.
“It’s been a journey, through the highs and lows but you’ve got to believe in yourself. Here I am, a Premier League player.”
Luton largely dominated the first half and deservedly took the lead in the 23rd minute through Clark, who was set up by Elijah Adebayo and took one touch before firing home a left-footed shot.
They also had two goals disallowed before the break but a much-improved Coventry drew level thanks to a quick counter just after the hour mark.
Viktor Gyokeres streamed down the left side and picked out Hamer in the box. The midfielder made a bursting run to meet the pass and side-footed the ball into the corner with a sublime finish.
Luton, who finished third in the Championship and beat Sunderland in their play-off final, sealed promotion when Coventry’s Dabo sent his penalty off-target after the previous 11 takers had all scored their spot kicks.
“It was our day, which was great, but I do feel for them as well,” Edwards said. “A lot of emotions going on right now, but I’m incredibly proud.”