The Championship Play Off Final: The Numbers…
Burnley and Sheffield United had the top two coveted Championship spots locked up for a significant chunk of an enthralling season. There were late rallies from Middlesborough and a plucky Rob Edwards-led bunch in Luton, both of which were kept firmly at arm’s length.
The Play off Picture
For Luton Town to make it to a stage three games away from the Premier League was nothing short of remarkable if you zoom out and look at the big picture. A punishment for financial breaches in 2009/10 would see The Hatters receive a 30-point penalty. That dealing of justice ushered Luton out of The EFL after an 89-year stay.
So, 13 years later and competing for the right to strut their stuff on the biggest of stages, it’s a fairytale – albeit centred around solid recruitment, both in the dugout with Nathan Jones and Rob Edwards and the playing staff. Being tough to break down is a standout from the data when analysing how Luton Town broke into the top six.
Only Burnley (38.2xG) conceded fewer expected goals (what is expected goals?) than Luton’s 43.8xG. And likewise, the Clarets’ 35 goals shipped at the wrong end was four fewer than The Hatters’ 39.
At the other end of the pitch, overlooking perhaps the best Championship team we’ve ever seen at Turf Moor, Michael Carrick’s Middlesbrough deserves mention. Their star 28-goal man Chuba Akpom led Boro’s top-flight quest, with highly-regarded Cameron Archer and Jacob Ramsey parachuted in from Aston Villa for the fight.
Both complimented Akpom fantastically. Similarly to their playoff semi-final opponents, Carrick oversaw an upwards trajectory from bottom-dwellers to automatic pushers. Eventually, though, Mark Robins’ Coventry City halted their efforts.
Cruel Blows in The Second Tier
Coventry were dealt a cruel blow at the beginning of the season with the state of their home pitch and an inability to perform in a familiar setting. The Sky Blues were homeless for a period. And navigating the opening seven games without a victory instantly put them on the back foot. Robins’ men were bottom of the league after seven rounds with just three points to their name. In the end, though, after 39 more games, the top six is where they found a home.
They came, and it was swift. Coventry only spent 16 days in the top six throughout the season. In comparison, Blackburn Rovers called the top six a home for a whopping 211 days. Championship football can be bitterly cruel.
Millwall can attest to that. They missed out on Wembley on the season’s final day. The Den hosted Rovers, ironically, who were both leapfrogged by a stellar Sunderland side. Heartbreak.
From League Two to The Premier League
Rewind to 2017/18, just five years ago, and there you have Luton Town muscling their way into automatic play off contention. Lincoln City commandeered the final playoff place, with Coventry City finishing one position ahead in 6th.
That doesn’t sound all too remarkable. However, it’s when you realise that this was, in fact, the final League Two standings half a decade ago that the achievement of each Wembley-bound Championship outfits starts to ring true.
To make it from League Two to the Championship is a leap in itself, especially with how difficult of a passage League One has become in recent seasons. Plymouth Argyle stands as the latest plucky outfit to grab the ascent by the scruff of the neck.
But, to take it one step further and make it to the Premier League, which is an achievement guaranteed for one of these sides, is truly a seismic effort.
Very few would have predicted The Hatters’ participation in Monday’s showpiece event five years into Luton’s spell outside the football league all those years ago.
From being a founding member of the top division to relegation in 1991/92, before making a 32-year adventured scenic detour back to arm’s length of a return. If Luton manages to add another successful chapter to an already unique story, they will equal Wimbledon’s record.
And it’s a good one. Wimbledon’s journey from non-league to the Premier League took just nine years. It’s something which seemed outright peculiar at the time. A feat that stands the test of time usually is.
Pelly Ruddick Mpanzu embodies Luton’s fairytale spectacularly. The midfielder featured for his club in the days of the National League and has clawed his way through the divisions ever since. From Boreham Wood on £25 a game to life at the Kenny – his rise has mirrored Luton’s every step of the way.
Mpanzu joined whilst in the fifth tier in 2013. “The place was bonkers; it was mad”, explained the athletic central midfielder. The training pitches attracted visits by dog walkers and had two portable cabins stuck together. It seems a world away from a Wembley final and Premier League football. Following victory, he would become the first player to go from the fifth tier to the Premier League with the same club.
Arriving at The Championship Play off Final
The Sky Blues restricted Middlesborough to few clear-cut opportunities over both legs. But, I suppose that Coventry’s current vein of form conveys the confidence to thwart whoever is put in front of them. City comes into the playoff final in tremendous shape. They have lost just once (0-4 vs Stoke) in their previous 19 matches. In the Championship, a run like that is a rarity.
Gustavo Hamer was on hand to capitalise on a disjointed Boro backline after a clever through ball allowed Viktor Gyökeres to round the keeper. As you’d expect from the hosts, there was a late push, with Matt Crooks’ header rightly ruled out for offside. 0-1 Coventry. Job done.
That defence-splitting Györkeres run showcases the Swede’s biggest strengths. He’s pacey, willing to dart in behind, and comfortable and composed when reaching the ball and in possession. That’s why there’s a host of Premier League clubs interested. And it’s why he’ll line up in top-flight stadiums up and down the country soon enough.
In terms of working the keeper (shots per90), Carlton Morris (3.05) & Viktor Gyökeres (2.98) rank in the Championship’s top 10. There’s not much separating them in goals-scored either, with the Luton marksman (20) just one behind Gyökeres’ 21.
Like Gyökeres, Morris couldn’t quite find the net in his playoff semi. Nevertheless, Sunderland shouldn’t feel aggrieved after their playoff showings. Another side punching above their weight all season, the Black Cats didn’t quite have what it took to keep pace with Luton at Kenilworth Road. They were second best in both boxes, unable to win the aerial battle on the night, and lacking in physicality against full-bodied opposition.
The quality was there in the away camp. Yet, the chances to flip the game on its head never came to fruition after Tom Lockyer’s opener. An aggregate win, and now closer to Premier League football than ever. EFL’s biggest prize awaits.
Luton vs Coventry Prediction – The Betting
As you’d probably expect from looking at the final standings, Luton Town takes pole position as the favourites in the eyes of the bookmakers. No surprises there, with Mark Robins’ side at 3.10 for the win in 90 minutes.
Luton can be backed at 2.45 to get the better of their final opponents in 90 minutes. The Hatters arrive at Wembley as a 1.72 odds-on shot to be a Premier League club come next season. The 1.72 punt allows for Rob Edwards’ side to take it into extra time and penalties and be successful.
It’s so hard to call for us. Luton Town are well equipped to dampen the threat that Gyökeres and Hamer pose. They will prove handy in nullifying the counter-attacking threat which Coventry carry. On the other hand, City will fancy their chances in competing with Luton aerially and at set pieces. It’s an avenue in which The Hatters usually hold an advantage over teams. Interestingly, Coventry City’s Championship campaign this season saw them both score the fewest goals from set pieces (7) and concede the least (6) at the other end.
Not only was Burnley (21) the one side to concede fewer xGA than Luton, but they were also the only team to lock in more clean sheets than the Hatters’ 20. A shutout in their first-ever playoff final will do their chances a world of good.
Yet, in terms of clean sheets by personnel, Coventry’s Ben Wilson claims accolade. The Sky Blues stopper is the only person to reach 20 clean sheets in the regular season. He pips Ethan Horvath, Luton goalkeeper, who ended the campaign with 19. This Playoff Final has all the ingredients to be an absolute barnstormer, then.
The contest is so tough to call. So, it’s probably wise to side with the team that possesses the biggest price tag. At bet365, Coventry to clinch promotion is 2.10 – a touch higher than the aforementioned 1.72 for their opponents.
Regardless of the result, an underdog story, the ultimate fairytale, will gladly receive its deserved Premier League ending.
The Championship Play Off Final: The Numbers…