The somewhat unlikely pairing of Coventry City and Luton Town will face off at Wembley on Saturday with the prestigious and extremely lucrative prize of promotion to the Premier League on the line. Even the most optimistic fans of either team could not have predicted the meteoric rise of two clubs who were playing in League Two as recently as the 2017/18 season.
Luton's last appearance in the top flight was during the 1991/92 season, the year before the formation of the Premier League, falling as far down as the National League in the years since. They are no strangers to the Championship play-offs however, having lost out to Huddersfield in last year’s play-off semi-final over two legs.
The Hatters finished this season in third in the league standings, ten points ahead of Coventry, but 11 points adrift of second-placed Sheffield United. They secured a remarkable comeback win against Sunderland in the semi-final, utterly dominating their makeshift defence in the air. Both second-leg goals came from crosses, and three Luton players recorded aerial duel grades above 80; goalscorer Tom Lockyer (85.4), and strikers Elijah Adebayo (82.3) and Carlton Morris (81.5).
Coventry have been on an equally tumultuous journey since their relegation from the Premier League at the end of 2000/01 season, sliding down the tiers of the Football League amidst a series of financial troubles and stadium moves. At the end of September the Sky Blues were bottom of the table, but manager Mark Robins has produced a remarkable turnaround since, culminating in a run of form that’s seen the team lose only one of their last 19 games.
Sealing a third promotion with Coventry would be a remarkable achievement for Robins, who many have argued boasts the acumen to be a Premier League coach. A nervy 1-0 aggregate win over Middlesbrough secured their spot in the final, thanks to a second-leg goal by midfielder Gustavo Hamer (90.1 Ball Carry grade this season, 1st among all players).
The previous two meetings between the sides both ended in draws, suggesting this will be an evenly-matched affair. Neither team shies away from a direct style of play: Luton centre-back Tom Lockyer attempted 347 creates contest passes, most of any outfield player, while Coventry midfielder Jamie Allen led the league with 39 pressures applied per 90 (minimum 1,000 minutes). The game will likely be a typically physical Championship contest, and as Mark Robins put it; “it’s one for the romantics.”
|Player||Shooting Grade (Position Rank)||Aerial Duel Grade (Position Rank)||Ball Carry Grade (Position Rank)||Passing Grade (Position Rank)|
|Carlton Morris||91.4 (4th)||74.4 (5th)||73.2 (18th)||62.2 (117th)|
|Viktor Gyökeres||83.9 (12th)||53.7 (160th)||64.2 (85th)||77.0 (9th)|
Key Players: Carlton Morris and Viktor Gyökeres
This final could well come down to the performance of each team’s main striker, both of whom have been in great form this season. Coventry’s Viktor Gyökeres ranked second in goals scored (21), just ahead of Luton’s Carlton Morris in third (20).
The two players have quite different play styles. Morris was involved in 599 aerial duels (winning 42%), which was the second most of any player this season. Meanwhile Gyökeres ranked second among all players in both total line-breaking passes received (345) and defensive-line breaking passes received (40).
Carlton Morris, Luton Town, striker
Morris has made great use of his aerial ability by attempting 34 headed shots this season, the second-most of any player. He will have his work cut out for him on Saturday, however, as he comes up against Coventry’s trio of centre-backs; Luke McNally (85.7 aerial duel grade), Kyle McFadzean (85.9 aerial duel grade) and Callum Doyle (75.4 aerial duel grade).
In addition to his elite shooting grade, Morris recorded a 62% true shots-on-target rate this season, while his 13 unsavable shots ranks second most of any player.
Another player he will have to contend with on Saturday is Coventry’s goalkeeper Ben Wilson, who led the league with 20 clean sheets this season. Wilson’s shot-stopping grade of 81.5 was the ninth-best in the league, and his shots-on-target saved percentage of 72% was good for eighth overall (minimum 1,000 minutes).
Viktor Gyökeres, Coventry City, striker
Coventry’s talisman attempted 259 dribbles this season (5.3 per 90), over 50 more than any other player in Championship this season. His 64.0 Dribbling grade and 39% dribble completion percentage suggest he only had mixed results at best, however.
One area where his performance is indisputable is chance creation, in addition to his impressive goalscoring record the Swedish international contributed ten assists (second among all players) and completed 78 key passes, the most of any striker.
Luton centre-back Tom Lockyer will provide stiff opposition for Gyökeres, his 90.7 challenge grade ranks fifth-highest for defenders. The Coventry striker will likely test Luton keeper Ethan Horvath several times during the game, and the American (70.9 Shot Stopping grade, 27th) will need to be at his best to deny him.