A place in the EFL Championship playoff final will be on the line when Luton Town and Sunderland clash at Kenilworth Road on Tuesday.
The 2022/23 season is on the verge of ending, with promoted and relegated teams across various leagues getting finalised. In the EFL Championship, the promotion playoffs are underway, with the second leg of the semi-finals beginning on Tuesday. And Luton Town and Sunderland will clash at Kenilworth Road, with a place in the final up for grabs.
Luton Town reached the promotion playoffs after finishing third on the table. The Hatters were the unlikeliest qualifiers for this stage of the competition, especially considering their size and budget. But Rob Edwards has overseen a memorable season that might end with the club from Bedfordshire reaching the Premier League.
On the other hand, Sunderland can end the 2022/23 season with a second successive promotion. The Black Cats, who went through the playoffs to reach the Championship, have blown hot and cold this season. In fact, they were as low as 12th six weeks ago. But a nine-game unbeaten run helped them secure a top-six finish.
The visitors have carried that form into the playoffs, beating Luton Town 2-1 in the first leg at the Stadium of Light. And The Hard Tackle takes a closer look at the encounter ahead of the latest meeting between the two sides.
Team News & Tactics
Ready to go again tomorrow. 💪#LUTSUN | #COYH pic.twitter.com/v8ASjASZwn
— Luton Town FC (@LutonTown) May 15, 2023
Rob Edwards has one new injury concern hampering his preparations ahead of his side’s latest fixture. Against Sunderland on Tuesday, the Luton Town manager might be without one first-team player.
Alfie Doughty struggled with cramps towards the end of the first leg. And Edwards is sweating over the fitness of the 23-year-old ahead of the latest fixture against Sunderland. But the Luton Town manager has a full-strength squad apart from that.
Amari’i Bell has been playing in the back-three but might move into the left wing-back berth if Doughty is not available. But the 23-year-old should be fit enough to start on Tuesday, enabling Edwards to field his strongest eleven.
Bell will thus join Tom Lockyer and Gabriel Osho in the central defensive unit. Ethan Horvath should take his spot between the sticks, with Luton lining up in a 3-5-2 formation in front of him. Meanwhile, Drameh should complete the wing-back pairing alongside Doughty.
As for the midfield unit, Aston Villa loanee Marvelous Nakamba will hold the key for Luton Town. The 29-year-old needs to secure the fort in the middle of the park, with Pelly-Ruddock Mpanzu and Jordan Clark accompanying him in the middle of the park.
The trio will aim to keep things tight in the middle of the park. And that will give Drameh and Doughty the freedom to express themselves on the flanks. Finally, Elijah Adebayo and Carlton Morris should be the two strikers for the hosts.
Probable Lineup (3-5-2): Horvath; Osho, Lockyer, Bell; Drameh, Mpanzu, Nakamba, Clark, Doughty; Adebayo, Morris
Like his counterpart in the Luton Town dugout, Jon Mowbray endured the emergence of casualties from the first leg. In addition, the Sunderland manager might be without half a dozen other players during the trip to Kenilworth Road.
Elliot Embleton (ankle), Danny Batth (knee), Ross Stewart (Achilles), Corry Evans (ACL), Aji Alese (thigh) and Dan Ballard (hamstring) are already on the sidelines. Meanwhile, Patrick Roberts and Alex Pritchard picked up knocks in the first leg this past weekend.
📺 Tony Mowbray previews tomorrow’s second leg at Kenilworth Road.#SAFC | #TilTheEnd https://t.co/iZWnWBs1uQ
— Sunderland AFC (@SunderlandAFC) May 15, 2023
But while Pritchard might be fit to face Luton Town, Roberts might not make the cut on Tuesday. So Niall Huggins might come into the starting eleven, joining Luke O’Nien, Trai Hume, and Lynden Gooch in the defensive unit. The backline will protect Anthony Patterson, with Sunderland lining up in a 4-2-3-1 formation in front of him.
The midfield department will likely feature Pierre Ekwah and Dan Neil. While Ekwah will be primarily defensive-minded in his approach, Neil will also put in the hard yards for much of the game. But the 21-year-old will also aim to push the visitors forward on every given opportunity.
Amad Diallo has been one of Sunderland’s best performers this season. And the youngster will provide the x-factor in the final third. On Tuesday, he Manchester United loanee will join Pritchard, Jack Clarke, and Joe Gelhardt in the offensive unit.
Probable Lineup (4-2-3-1): Patterson; Huggins, O’Nien, Hume, Gooch; Neil, Ekwah; Diallo, Pritchard, Clarke; Gelhardt
- Luton Town have opened the scoring in all three of their meetings with Sunderland this season but failed to win a single one (D2 L1). The Black Cats have lost just one of their last 14 meetings with Luton in all competitions (W8 D5), a 3-0 defeat in the League Cup in August 2007. But Sunderland’s last away win at Luton was on the final day of the 2006/07 Championship season (D2 L1 since).
- Only Portsmouth (8) have played more games in the Football League playoffs without winning a single match than Luton Town (7 – D3 L4). All three of their home games have ended as stalemates.
- Sunderland have won just one of their seven away games in the Football League playoffs (D2 L4), beating Newcastle United 2-0 in 1989/90.
- Luton Town’s first-leg defeat ended their 14-game unbeaten run (W8 D6). The Hatters have not lost consecutive matches in all competitions since a run of three in August 2022.
- Jack Clarke has been involved in eight goals in his last eight appearances for Sunderland (two goals, six assists). He has assisted a goal in his most recent three games, including setting up Trai Hume’s winner against Luton in the first leg.
Player to Watch
Amad Diallo has scored again — it’s now 13 goals and 4 assists this season on his Sunderland loan. Smart move. 🔴✨ #SAFC
Understand Amad only dreams of Man United chance, he loves the club and he hopes to have an opportunity with the 1st team next season. pic.twitter.com/ZNY6MOrt81
— Fabrizio Romano (@FabrizioRomano) May 8, 2023
Amad Diallo has done wonders since joining Sunderland from Manchester United last summer. The loan deal to the EFL Championship raised eyebrows, especially considering the youngster’s potential. But the move has seemingly benefitted the 20-year-old immensely this season.
The youngster is Sunderland’s top scorer this season, finding the back of the net 13 times. One of those strikes came in the first leg, where he produced a brilliant drive to initiate the comeback win. Another such performance will guide Sunderland to the playoff final at Wembley.
Luton Town 1-1 Sunderland
There was very little to separate the two teams in the first leg, with Luton Town and Sunderland giving each other a run for their money. But the 2-1 win has left Sunderland with some wriggle room, which Luton Town will not have on Tuesday. Meanwhile, the Hatters have a miserable record in the playoffs, failing to win their seven games thus far.
On the other hand, the Black Cats have won their last three away games, last having a longer winning run on the road in all competitions in October/November 2018 (6). Neither record will change on Tuesday, with a stalemate on the cards. The Hard Tackle predicts a 1-1 draw between Luton Town and Sunderland, with the Black Cats reaching the final.
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