Luton Town’s promotion bid hit a speed bump when Southampton prised away its beloved manager Nathan Jones earlier this season, but it has now returned the favour by taking the south-coast club’s place in the Premier League.
Jones had led Luton to automatic promotion from League Two and even a Championship playoff semifinals in two spells but left in November when it was ninth, leaving Luton in a predicament.
Enter Rob Edwards, the latest victim of Watford’s managerial revolving door policy, and Luton had no qualms in handing the man who coached its rival a three-and-a-half-year contract.
“Let’s be honest ... if we avoided everyone with a connection to our adversaries our choice would be somewhat more limited,” club CEO Gary Sweet said at the time.
The rest is history as Luton finished third in the Championship and qualified for the playoffs on the back of a 14-match unbeaten run.
It saw off Sunderland in the semifinals after losing the first leg before beating Coventry City on penalties in a nerve-shredding final at Wembley to return to the top flight after 31 years.
“We (thought we) are in trouble because when we were taking some in practice we were rubbish,” Carlton Morris, Luton’s top scorer this season, said.
“It’s nice for all the boys to step up today. I said in our huddle that it is time to be men and step up. We scored six out of six penalties in a high-pressure situation.”
Survival in the top flight would lead to a financial windfall of 290 million pounds ($366 million) according to Deloitte but Edwards is keeping his feet firmly planted on the ground, saying they will be ‘sensible’.
“We’re not going to go mental. We have to play to our strengths,” Edwards said.
“We realise it’s going to be the biggest challenge ever. It’s the best league with the best managers, the best players. We know how tough it is going to be.
“The fans have seen some dark, dark times. It’s great that we can give them a smile.”
Pelly-Ruddock Mpanzu has seen it all since he joined the club in 2014, training on a dog’s field when he first arrived before the money came in through promotions and new facilities were built.
With 367 appearances for Luton, the 29-year-old is now the first man to go from non-league to the Premier League with one club.
“I’ve completed football, I’ll retire this summer,” he joked. “It’s been a journey, through the highs and lows but you’ve got to believe in yourself.
“Here I am, a Premier League player.”
Kenilworth Road will be the smallest stadium in the top flight with a capacity of just over 10,300 - acceptable for when Luton was in the fifth tier a decade ago but not when competing with the Premier League’s riches.
The club will be spending 10 million pounds on improvements before the new season kicks off in August but the ground that is cosily nestled in the midst of terraced homes has its own charm and could even be a potent weapon.
With Luton back in the big time, it will now ready Itself to play at the biggest stadiums in the country but defender Dan Potts said trips to Old Trafford and Emirates Stadium can wait.
“Vegas first,” he said grinning. “We’re going to enjoy this moment first and then preparation will start.
- Inter Miami vs Toronto FC, Live Score: Lionel Messi starts; Match kicks off
- Arsenal thrashes PSV on Champions League return
- Champions League 2023-24: Bayern beats Manchester United 4-3 for opening Group A win
- BAY 4-3 MUN highlights, Champions League: Bruno, Casmeiro score late but Tel, Kane, Gnabry, Sane goals enough for Bayern to edge win
- Asian Games 2023: Indian football looks for silver lining in Hangzhou; Mandhana eyes win in cricket’s quarterfinal