Luton promoted to Premier League after shootout victory against Coventry

<span>Photograph: Tom Jenkins/The Observer</span>
Photograph: Tom Jenkins/The Observer

This time Rob Edwards really could celebrate. The Luton manager had hared off down the touchline with four minutes of extra time remaining to celebrate what he thought was the winning goal in front of his side’s supporters, eating up 45 yards of Wembley turf, only to retreat to his technical area ashen-faced after glancing up at the big screen confirming Joe Taylor’s extra-time goal, which would have been his first for the club, had been disallowed for handball. Jonathan Panzo, on cold as a substitute, dawdled on the ball and Taylor, a 20-year-old making his sixth appearance, nicked it from the Coventry defender, but surged through on goal with the help of his right hand.

Related: Luton’s giddy promotion fulfils long dream of returning to the elite

Edwards covered his face in disbelief but after 140 minutes of gripping action an agonising penalty shootout followed. Eventually, Fankaty Dabo missed the crucial spot-kick as Luton clinched promotion to the Premier League at Coventry’s expense, capping an incredible rise from non-league to the top flight in nine years. It meant Edwards was able to laugh about the disallowed goal afterwards. “What an idiot,” he said. “I thought that was going to come back to haunt me.”

Up in the stands there were tears of joy for the Luton chief executive, Gary Sweet, among many at the club who have lived through it all. Given the lows Sweet has also seen, it felt fitting that he bounced to Yazz’s The Only Way is Up. Twenty years ago he helped form the Luton Town Supporters’ Trust after calling a meeting at the Bricklayers Arms. Until Dabo’s miss, the penalties had been immaculate. Dabo was inconsolable.

For Luton, this was a hard-luck story with the happiest of endings. Erling Haaland and Mohamed Salah will soon be lacing up their boots and putting on their shin pads at Kenilworth Road, a cramped ground with patchwork wooden stands and dugouts barely a yard from the sidelines. The old girl, as Sweet affectionately refers to the stadium, will be in the big time. Mick Harford, who played in Luton’s last top-flight game in 1992 and now heads their recruitment department, was among the club royalty at Wembley. More than four hours after kick-off, Edwards was finally able to enjoy a beer, a bottle of Budweiser delivered to him mid-press conference. This time last year he was toasting promotion from League Two with Forest Green Rovers. Aside from a 10-game stint at Watford, it has been a successful 12 months. “In the main, pretty good,” he smiled.

Coventry City’s Fankaty Dabo reacts as he hits his penalty high and wide in the sudden death penalty shootout to give Luton Town victory during the Sky Bet Championship Play-Off Final between Coventry City and Luton Town at Wembley Stadium.
Coventry’s Fankaty Dabo looks on in horror after missing the crucial penalty against Luton. Photograph: Tom Jenkins/The Observer

Dan Potts, who joined the club from West Ham eight years ago when Luton were in the fourth tier, led the squad up the steps to the royal box to collect their medals. Potts was the third player to wear the captain’s armband, with Tom Lockyer carried off on a stretcher after collapsing on the pitch after eight minutes. Carlton Morris, who caused Coventry no end of problems, spoke to Lockyer, who was able to celebrate from his hospital bed in north London, after the final whistle. Pelly Ruddock Mpanzu, who played for Luton in non-league 10 years ago, took the armband before being withdrawn in extra time. Mpanzu later joked he could retire after completing football, as the first player to climb from non-league to the top tier with the same club.

Related: ‘Luton fans have seen some dark times so it’s great we can give them a smile’

Luton had two first-half goals disallowed either side of Jordan Clark’s fine opener. They did not allow the Lockyer incident to disrupt their rhythm. Coventry, meanwhile, were frozen until Gustavo Hamer scooped a shot over on the verge of half-time.

Fifteen yards or so from the Luton goalline Alfie Doughty sent a long ball upfield towards Elijah Adebayo. Kyle McFadzean was one-on-one with the striker and Adebayo’s twists and turns led the Coventry centre-back a merry dance. Clark’s run was not tracked and after Adebayo chopped inside one last time he located Clark on the edge of Coventry’s 18-yard box. The Luton midfielder, a free transfer from Accrington, took a brilliant first touch with his right boot and lashed in with his left with his next touch.

Coventry roused before half-time but nevertheless it was no surprise Robins changed shape. Matt Godden, a striker, replaced Jamie Allen, the midfielder who had failed to bring Viktor Gyökeres into the game. Suddenly Coventry were a different beast and levelled after Gyökeres and Hamer dovetailed to devastating effect. Gyökeres drove forward and calmly spied the advancing Hamer to his right. Hamer side-footed the ball in first time and pandemonium ensued at one half of this ground. McFadzean endeavoured to have a quiet word with Robins pitchside.

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No sooner were the Coventry supporters swooning over Hamer than the midfielder was forced off with injury after landing awkwardly. It seemed the biggest talking point would arrive in added time when Clark was deemed to have dived after Ben Wilson, the Coventry goalkeeper, confronted him after rushing from his goal. Up in the stands Howard Webb, chief refereeing officer of the PGMOL, bit at his nails. That was nothing compared with the intoxicating drama that would follow.