A place in the 2023/24 Premier League will be on the line, with Coventry City vs Luton Town being the Championship promotion playoffs final.
The 2022/23 season is on the verge of ending, with a few finals left for the curtains to drop on a long-winding campaign. Saturday evening will see Wembley hosting Coventry City vs Luton Town, with the two unheralded clubs vying for a place in the 2023/24 Premier League.
It was not long ago that Coventry City and Luton Town were languishing in the fourth tier of English football. But both clubs have come a long way from the depths of League Two, with a historic promotion to the Premier League on the cards for them. Meanwhile, Coventry City beat Middlesbrough in the playoff semi-finals, while Luton Town got past Sunderland. And the run to the final came via the scenic route for the two teams.
Coventry City and Luton Town were both in the relegation zone as late as October. But they both embarked on phenomenal runs in the second half of the regular season. While the Sky Blues have lost only one of their last 19 games, the Hatters have been on a similar streak, going down once in the most recent 16 outings.
Coventry City and Luton Town have clashed twice thus far this season, with both games ending in a stalemate. While the teams played out a 2-2 draw in the opening fixture, 1-1 was the result in the reverse match. And The Hard Tackle takes a closer look at the encounter ahead of the latest meeting between the two sides.
Team News & Tactics
Mark Robins does not have any new injury concerns hampering his preparations ahead of the EFL Championship promotion playoff final. Against Luton Town on Saturday, the Coventry City boss will be bereft of the services of four first-team players.
Kasey Palmer (hamstring), Callum O’Hare (knee), Fabio Tavares (Achilles), and Tyler Walker (knock) remain on the sidelines. But Gustavo Hamer should shrug off a knock to be available to take on Luton Town on Saturday.
Ben Wilson should take his spot between the sticks, with Coventry City lining up in a 3-5-2 formation in front of him. So the wing-backs will have the onus on them to provide width in the final third.
At the same time, the wide duo will need to drop deep to create a back five during the defensive phases. That will enable the three centre-backs — Luke McNally, Kyle McFadzean and Callum Doyle — to remain compact, thus denying the space for Luton Town to exploit.
Brooke Norton-Cuffy and Jake Bidwell should be the two wing-backs. The duo will also support the three centre-back when Coventry will press high up the pitch. Meanwhile, Ben Sheaf will sit at the base of the midfield unit, looking to keep things tight in the middle of the park.
Hamer and captain Liam Kelly will put in the hard yards alongside Sheaf behind the ball. And the duo will also provide the forward thrust from the centre of the pitch. Finally, Matt Godden will line up alongside the talismanic Viktor Gyokeres in the final third.
Probable Lineup (3-5-2): Wilson; McNally, McFadzean, Doyle; Norton-Cuffy, Hamer, Sheaf, Kelly, Bidwell; Godden, Gyokeres
Unlike his counterpart in the Coventry City dugout, Rob Edwards barely has any issues to deal with ahead of the trip to Wembley. The Luton Town manager will be without one first-team player on Saturday.
Cauley Woodrow is the only player unavailable for the Hatters, with the 28-year-old recovering from a knee injury. Otherwise, Edwards has a full-strength squad at his disposal heading into the EFL Championship playoff final on Saturday.
Ethan Horvath will start in the goal for Luton Town, who should line up in a 3-5-2 formation in front of him. And the Hatters will adopt a similar system as Coventry City, with Edwards making a few tweaks.
The two wing-backs — Cody Drameh and Alfie Doughty — will have more defensive responsibility. But the duo will also have more freedom to express themselves when the Hatters charge forward from the flanks. So the two wide men will expend a lot of energy on Saturday.
Gabriel Osho, Tom Lockyer, and Amari’i Bell will be the two centre-backs, with Bell lining up as a makeshift central defender. The 29-year-old has revelled in his new role and will have a big role to play to keep Viktor Gyokeres quiet.
Marvelous Nakamba will aim to shore up things in the middle of the park. And his presence in the centre of the pitch will allow Jordan Clark to express himself better. That is because Pelly-Ruddock Mpanzu will also essay a defensive-minded role. Finally, Elijah Adebayo and Carlton Morris will be the two strikers for Luton Town.
Probable Lineup (3-5-2): Horvath; Osho, Lockyer, Bell; Drameh, Clark, Nakamba, Mpanzu, Doughty; Adebayo, Morris
- Saturday will be Luton Town’s first-ever appearance in a Football League playoff final. The 2-0 win over Sunderland in the second leg of the semi-final was their first-ever victory in an EFL playoff game. They featured in two playoff finals in the non-league, failing to get promoted in either, losing on penalties to AFC Wimbledon in 2011 after a 0-0 draw and losing 2-1 to York City in 2012.
- Coventry City have never lost an EFL playoff match before Saturday (W3 D2), winning their only previous final 3-1 against Exeter City in 2017/18 (League Two).
- Luton Town are unbeaten in their last nine meetings vs Coventry in all competitions (W4 D5) since a 3-0 home loss in October 2017 in League Two. Both EFL Championship meetings between the sides this term ended in a draw.
- Luton Town will reach the Premier League for the first time if they win, with the Hatters’ most recent top-flight season coming in 1991/92 when they finished 20th. But the side finishing third has failed to win promotion in five of the last eight Championship playoff finals they have competed in; the others are Norwich City in 2014/15, Fulham in 2017/18, and Brentford in 2020/21.
- Luton Town have lost five of their seven games at Wembley ahead of the meeting vs Coventry City. On the other hand, the Sky Blues have won three of their four matches at Wembley Stadium in all competitions, winning the 1987 FA Cup final (3-2 vs Tottenham Hotspur), 2017 EFL Trophy final (2-1 vs Oxford) and 2018 League Two playoff final (3-1 vs Exeter City). Their only defeat on the ground came in the 1987 Charity Shield against Everton (0-1).
Player to Watch
Viktor Gyokeres is coming off a phenomenal season that has seen his stock rise again. The Swede was already sought-after following a solid 2021/22 campaign. But if he takes Coventry City to the Premier League, his star will soar further. Meanwhile, his performances have alerted several top-flight teams.
Including playoffs, Gyokeres has been involved in more Championship goals than any other player this season (32 – 21 goals, 11 assists), with the Swede setting up Gustavo Hamer’s winner for Coventry in the semi-final against Middlesbrough. And the 24-year-old will fancy his chances of continuing his good run for Coventry vs Luton Town on Saturday.
Coventry City 2-2 Luton Town (Coventry City to win on penalties)
Coventry City vs Luton Town and vice-versa have not been happy hunting fixtures for the Sky Blues. But there was nothing to separate the two sides in their two clashes in the regular season. And the theme should not change on Saturday, even though Mark Robins’s men have become more solid as the campaign has progressed.
Meanwhile, Rob Edwards has forged a headstrong group of players who can give any team a run for their money. And with promotion on the line, neither side will leave anything in the tank. In the end, Coventry City vs Luton Town should end in another stalemate. But the Sky Blues should edge the Hatters in the penalty shootouts to return to the Premier League for the first time since 2000/01.
The lazy prediction is a draw. However, Coventry have match winners and I see a baraver prediction of 3-1 Coventry.