Tom Lockyer scores his fifth of the season for Luton – and third in their past four gamesLuton Town are one win away from returning to the top flight of English football for the first time since 1992 after overturning a first-leg deficit to beat Sunderland and reach the Championship play-off final.
Roared on by a raucous home crowd inside their compact 118-year-old Kenilworth Road home, Luton should have made it three when keeper Anthony Patterson misdirected a clearance and Jordan Clark blazed wastefully over.
Sunderland stuck to their passing principles, but the only serious save home keeper Ethan Horvath had to make throughout was from the head of one of his own players, Elijah Adebayo, when the score was 1-0.
Luton will now face Middlesbrough or Coventry City – who play their second leg on Wednesday with the tie level at 0-0 – at Wembley on 27 May with a place in the Premier League at stake.
Relive Tuesday’s Championship play-off as it happenedCould Kenilworth Road host Premier league football?Luton benefit from aerial powerThe two managers named the same XIs which started the first leg, and Sunderland had reasons for optimism following a 10-match unbeaten run and the knowledge that only champions Burnley had prevented them scoring in a league game since November.
Looking for back-to-back promotions after coming up from League One via the play-offs last term, they had two penalty appeals turned down inside the first 12 minutes, with the referee ruling that Amad Diallo had run into Marvelous Nakamba before tumbling to the ground and Amari’I Bell’s handball was unintentional.
In between, though, they fell behind when Lockyer won a header from a corner and the ball fell for Osho to turn it home for his third goal of the season.
Gabriel Osho reacted quickest to sidefoot the ball over the Sunderland lineAlthough the Wearsiders showed some nice passes and movement when they encroached into Luton’s half, they were in trouble virtually every time a high ball came into their box.
Trai Hume cleared a Carlton Morris effort off the line from Alfie Doughty’s cross but the ball rebounded back towards the goal off Pierre Ekwah and Luke O’Nien had to hack it away to prevent an own goal.
Morris went close again with a header from Clark’s free-kick which keeper Patterson pushed away at full stretch, but was powerless seconds later as Adebayo returned the ball into the box and Lockyer glanced it inches wide.
The pressure was relentless and, after his initial corner was played back to him two minutes before half-time, Doughty produced an inviting inswinging cross which Lockyer met with an unstoppable header.
Cook and Pleat watch Hatters make finalLuton finished 11 points clear of Sunderland in the regular season and Doughty’s dead-ball deliveries continued to cause panic in the Black Cats’ defence and Adebayo should have done better when he headed a corner over from five yards.
The home support included ex-England cricket captain Sir Alastair Cook and former Luton manager David Pleat, who led them to the second-tier title in 1982 and is hoping to see current head coach Rob Edwards add another promotion to his success with Forest Green in League Two a year ago.
With the tie slipping away, Sunderland pressed forward and Patrick Roberts dragged a shot wide before attempting a left-footed curler as he cut in from the right, again off target.
Tony Mowbray was a member of Ipswich’s winning Championship play-off final team in 2000, but the Sunderland boss could only watch as his side struggled in vain to breach a committed Luton defence.
Sunderland boss Tony Mowbray steered West Brom to promotion from the Championship in 2018Patterson was sent into the Luton box for a corner in added time but was stranded upfield as Luton broke away. But instead of squaring for an easy tap-in, Cody Drameh put his side-footed effort into the side-netting.
It did not matter, however, as the Hatters kept the door shut to secure a trip to the national stadium, having lost to Huddersfield at the semi-final stage of the play-offs 12 months ago.
Non-league to Premier League in nine years?Victory at Wembley would cap a remarkable change in fortunes for a club that dropped out of the English Football League in 2009 and only reclaimed their place five years later.
They took the next two steps under Nathan Jones, achieving back-to-back promotions in 2018 and 2019 before he moved on to Stoke City.
Jones returned 16 months later to help secure their Championship status and then guided them to play-offs by finishing sixth last season.
After strengthening the squad with signings such as top scorer Morris, they looked well placed to match that run, but had to make a change of manager mid-season when Jones was appointed by Southampton and Edwards was brought in as his replacement, having begun the campaign with Home Counties rivals Watford.
It did not halt their momentum and a 14-game unbeaten run secured third place in the table and a home second leg in the play-off semi-final, an advantage Edwards’ side made count.
Luton have ‘magnificent opportunity’ – reactionFormer Luton player, manager and current chief operating officer Mick Harford told BBC Three Counties Radio:
“I am absolutely so proud of everyone at the football club, delighted for these super fans, they deserve their day out at Wembley – we are going there to win.
“For the club it’s immense and a magnificent opportunity to get to the Premier League.
“Overall, I thought the performance was brilliant. We got the ball forward a lot quicker, our strikers played very well, in the end it could have been four or five nil.
“It means absolutely everything for Luton to be going back to Wembley. From where we’ve come from, the hard work that’s gone into it, the attitude of all the players and staff – it’s fully deserved.”
Sunderland manager Tony Mowbray told BBC Radio Newcastle:
“I knew Sunderland was a massive football club. Until you come through the door, you don’t realise how passionate the people who follow the football club are and how much 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 matches for them next season.
“It wasn’t to be tonight and they’ll be disappointed of course, 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 and if we manage to keep more players more fit next year, this squad is good enough to compete again at the top end.”
34Horvath32Osho4Lockyer29Bell2Drameh18ClarkBooked at 18minsSubstituted forCampbellat 83’minutes13Nakamba17MpanzuBooked at 90mins45Doughty9Morris11AdebayoSubstitutes1Shea3Potts8Berry16Burke22Campbell23Onyedinma25TaylorSunderlandFormation 4-4-1-1
1Patterson10Roberts32Hume13O’NienBooked at 30mins11GoochSubstituted forHugginsat 77’minutes16Diallo24NeilSubstituted forBaat 77’minutes39Ekwah20Clarke21PritchardSubstituted forAleseat 57’minutesBooked at 90mins28GelhardtSubstituted forMichutat 64’minutesSubstitutes2Huggins12Bass17Ba22Lihadji25Michut42Alese45AndersonReferee:Simon Hooper
Live TextMatch ends, Luton Town 2, Sunderland 0.
Second Half ends, Luton Town 2, Sunderland 0.
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 missed. Cody Drameh (Luton Town) right footed shot from long range on the right is close, but misses to the right. Assisted by Tom Lockyer following a fast break.
Corner, Sunderland. Conceded by Amari’i Bell.
Pierre Ekwah (Sunderland) wins a free kick in the defensive half.
Foul by Marvelous Nakamba (Luton Town).
Attempt missed. Patrick Roberts (Sunderland) left footed shot from outside the box is just a bit too high. Assisted by Édouard Michut.
Attempt missed. Alfie Doughty (Luton Town) left footed shot from the left side of the box misses to the right. Assisted by Carlton Morris.
Foul by Édouard Michut (Sunderland).
Allan Campbell (Luton Town) wins a free kick in the defensive half.
Substitution, Luton Town. Allan Campbell replaces Jordan Clark.
Attempt missed. Elijah Adebayo (Luton Town) left footed shot from the centre of the box is high and wide to the left. Assisted by Alfie Doughty following a corner.
Corner, Luton Town. Conceded by Patrick Roberts.
Substitution, Sunderland. Abdoullah Ba replaces Daniel Neil.
Substitution, Sunderland. Niall Huggins replaces Lynden Gooch.
Attempt missed. Patrick Roberts (Sunderland) left footed shot from outside the box is close, but misses the top left corner. Assisted by Daniel Neil.