Luton Town came within one win of their return to English football’s top flight for the first time since 1992 after beating Sunderland from a first-leg deficit to reach the Championship play-off final.
With a raucous home crowd roaring inside their compact 118-year-old Kenilworth Road home, Luton should have taken three points when goalkeeper Anthony Paterson misjudged a clearance and Jordan Clark wasted.
Sunderland stuck to their passing principles, but home keeper Ethan Horvath’s only serious save of the entire process came from a header from one of his own players, Elijah Adebayo, at 1-0.
Luton will now face Middlesbrough or Coventry City at Wembley Stadium on May 27 – they draw 0-0 in the second leg on Wednesday – for a place in the Premier League.
Luton benefit from air power
With both managers using the same starting XI for the first leg, Sunderland have reason to be optimistic after a 10-game unbeaten run and know that only champions Burnley have prevented them from scoring goals in the league since November .
Seeking back-to-back promotion after qualifying from the league via play-offs last season, they had two penalty appeals dismissed in the first 12 minutes, with the referee ruling that Amad Diallo met Marvelous Nakamba’s ground and Amari’I Bell’s before going down. Handball is unintentional.
In the meantime, though, Lockyer’s header from a corner and Osho’s third goal of the season put them behind.
Although the Wearsiders showed some fine passing and movement as they invaded Luton’s half, they were in trouble for nearly every lob that entered their box.
Trai Hume blocked Carlton Morris’ shot from Alfie Doughty’s cross but Pierre Ekwah bounced it back and Luke O’Nien had to chip away to prevent an own goal.
Morris again came close to Clarke’s free-kick header, and goalkeeper Patterson pushed it away with all his strength, but Adebayo sent the ball back into the box seconds later, and Lockyer glanced at it.
The pressure was relentless and after his first corner came back to him two minutes before half-time, Doughty produced a tempting inspinning cross that Lockyer met with an unstoppable header.
Cook and Pleat Watch Hatters Make Finals
Luton led Sunderland by 11 points in the regular season, Doughty’s dead ball continued to cause panic in the Black Cats’ defence, and Adebayor should have done better when he headed home from five yards.
The home support includes former England cricket captain Sir Alastair Cook and former Luton manager David Platt, who led them to the Second Division title in 1982 and would like to see current manager Rob Edwards Ziz was promoted again to League Two a year ago amidst his success with Forest Green.
With the tie gone, Sunderland pushed forward and Patrick Roberts widened his shot before trying to curve the ball with his left foot when cutting in from the right, again off target.
Tony Mowbray was part of Ipswich’s team that won the Championship play-off final in 2000, but the Sunderland boss could only watch as his side broke through in vain Luton’s solid defense.
Paterson was sent into the Luton box for a corner in stoppage time but was stuck up front after Luton broke away. But instead of leveling for an easy shot, Cody Drameh headed his side-footed effort into the side-netting.
However, that didn’t matter as Hudders kept the door shut to secure a trip to the National Stadium after losing to Huddersfield in the semi-finals of the play-offs 12 months ago.
Nine years of non-league transfer to the Premier League?
Victory at Wembley will seal the club’s exit from the English Football League in 2009 regained their place five years later.
They took the next two steps under Nathan Jones, achieving back-to-back promotions in 2018 and 2019 before his move to Stoke.
Jones returned after 16 months to help secure their title status before leading them to the play-offs with a sixth-placed finish last season.
After bolstering the squad by signing top scorer Morris, among others, they looked fit for the game but had to change coach midseason as Jones Appointed by Southampton Edwards was brought in as his replacement and has already started his campaign against hometown rivals Watford.
That didn’t stop their momentum, with a 14-match unbeaten run securing third place in the table and the home second leg of the play-off semi-final, with Edwards’ side taking the upper hand.
Luton have ‘great chance’ – reaction
Former Luton player, manager and current chief operating officer Mick Harford told BBC Three Counties Radio:
“I’m so proud of everyone at the football club, so happy for these super fans who deserve a great day at Wembley – we’re going to win there.
“It’s a huge, fantastic opportunity for the club to get into the Premier League.
“Overall, I thought the performance was excellent. We got the ball quicker, we had a good striker and it was maybe four, five, zero at the end.
“It means absolutely everything for Luton to be back at Wembley. From where we’ve come from, the hard work we’ve put in, the attitude of all the players and staff – it’s well deserved.”
Sunderland manager Tony Mowbray told BBC Radio Newcastle:
“I know Sunderland is a huge football club. You don’t realize until you walk in the door how passionate the people are following the football club and what it means to their lives.
“We hope we’ve given them some good days this year. Of course we need to get better, be more consistent and win more games for them next season.
“It won’t be tonight, of course they will be disappointed, but I’m proud of the team, proud of the young players, proud of the supporters, proud of the city.
“We can only grow from this point. If we get it right in the summer, if we recruit well, if we can get more players fit next year, then this team is good enough to compete at the top again.”
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At the end of the game, Luton Town 2, Sunderland 0.
At the end of the second half, Luton 2-0 Sunderland.
Ajibola Alese (Sunderland) is shown the yellow card.
Foul by Ajibola Alese (Sunderland).
Ethan Horvath (Luton Town) wins a free kick in the defensive half.
Pelly-Ruddock Mpanzu (Luton Town) is shown the yellow card.
Attempt failed. Cody Drameh (Luton Town) right footed shot from long range on the right misses to the right. Tom Lockyer made the assist after a fast break.
Corner, Sunderland. Amari’i Bell concedes.
Pierre Ekwah (Sunderland) wins a free kick in the defensive half.
Foul by Marvelous Nakamba (Luton Town).
Attempt failed. Patrick Roberts (Sunderland) left footed shot from outside the box is slightly high. Assisted by Édouard Michut.
Attempt failed. Alfie Doughty (Luton) left footed shot from the left side of the box misses to the right. Assisted by Carlton Morris.
Foul by Édouard Michut (Sunderland).
Alan Campbell (Luton Town) wins a free kick in the defensive half.
Substitution, Luton Town. Allan Campbell replaced Jordan Clark.
Attempt failed. Ilia Adebayor (Luton) left footed shot from the center of the box is high and wide to the left. Alfie Doughty makes the assist from the corner.
Corner, Luton Town. Patrick Roberts concedes.
Substitution, Sunderland. Abdoullah Ba replaces Daniel Neil.
Substitution, Sunderland. Niall Huggins replaces Lynden Gooch.
Attempt failed. Patrick Roberts (Sunderland) left footed shot from outside the box is close, but misses to the top left corner. Assisted by Daniel Neal.
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