Massive day for Sky Blues and Hatters
published : 27 May 2023 at 04:00
newspaper section: Sports
writer: Nobby Piles
The third club to join already promoted Burnley and Sheffield United in the Premier League next season will be decided in the play-off final at Wembley today and features two unlikely teams -- Luton Town and Coventry City.
It is one of three Football League play-offs on this final weekend.
Many thought the two big northeastern clubs Middlesbrough and Sunderland would prevail in the semi-finals of the play-offs, but this wasn't the case as Luton defeated Sunderland and Coventry overcame Middlesbrough.
Coventry have not been in the Premier League for 22 years while Luton's last time in the top flight was 1992 when they were relegated from the old First Division.
Since those days, both clubs have suffered monumental problems that saw them close to going out of business.
Considering their setbacks in recent years, it is truly remarkable that one of them will next season be tasting the high life in the Premier League.
Luton, who were playing non-league football just nine years ago, have enjoyed an excellent season under manager Rob Edwards, finishing third in the Championship, 10 points and two places above Coventry.
The former Wolves and Wales defender's last managing role was at Watford.
Coventry manager Mark Robins was a useful striker with stints at Manchester United, Norwich and Leicester.
Beset by financial difficulties from 2007-09 in three successive seasons, Luton plunged from the Championship down to the Conference.
They were not helped by a staggering 30 points deducted for financial irregularities.
After five seasons of non-league football, Luton stabilised and won promotion from the Conference in 2014 and more recently enjoyed successive promotions in 2018 and 2019 to reach the Championship.
When Coventry were relegated from the Premier League in 2001, it ended a 34-season stay in the top flight.
During that time, they collected only one major trophy, upsetting Tottenham Hotspur 3-2 in the 1987 FA Cup final.
After relegation, major financial problems were compounded by complex issues concerning their stadium.
From 1899-2005, the Sky Blues' home had been Highfield Road. They moved into the Ricoh Arena in 2005 which they shared with the ill-fated Wasps rugby union football club which has since gone bankrupt.
It is still the club's home now known as the Coventry Arena.
However, owing to legal issues too complex to go into here, they had to move from the stadium for lengthy periods which proved to be very disruptive leading to relegation to League One in 2012 and then League Two in 2017.
In 2013, Coventry's "home" fixtures were played at Northampton Town's Sixfields stadium and for two seasons, 2019-21, they had to play at St Andrews, home of Birmingham City. It was a real loyalty test for their fans.
Despite these major disruptions, they managed to progress, winning promotion from League Two in 2018 and then League One in 2020 to reach the Championship.
The situation behind the scenes also improved with the Sisu group selling out to local businessman Doug King.
There are two other play-off finals this weekend with Carlisle and Stockport battling it out tomorrow for the League Two honours while Sheffield Wednesday and Barnsley will be striving to get back into the Championship on Monday in an all-Yorkshire affair.
The Owls will be in high spirits after their extraordinary comeback against Peterborough in the semi-finals when they overcame a 4-0 first-leg deficit to beat the Posh 5-1 after extra time and then winning on penalties.
It should be a real scrap with the Sheffield side, owned by Thai seafood tycoon Dejphon Chansiri, desperate to get back into the Championship after two frustrating seasons in League One, while Barnsley are hoping for an immediate bounce back following relegation last season.
After 11 seasons in non-league football, Stockport will be hoping to continue their upward momentum against Carlisle.
Older Carlisle supporters will fondly remember when their team briefly led the top flight in 1974.
After a long season, three teams will have their dreams fulfilled this weekend while the other three will be condemned to another season in the same old division.
It sounds tough, but that's football.
- Sheffield United