Coventry City boss Mark Robins has already billed this year’s Championship play-off final as “one for the romantics”.
But will it be the Sky Blues or the Hatters who enjoy a fairytale ending at Wembley?
Two sides with more illustrious pasts, Wembley cup final winners respectively within a year of each other – Coventry lifting the FA Cup in 1987 and Luton prevailing in the 1988 League Cup final – both trying to get back to the top flight just five years after being together in League Two.
This season alone began with Coventry bottom of the league, having to postpone four games because of their damaged pitch, while Luton had to bounce back from their manager Nathan Jones walking out on them for a second time, to be taken on by Rob Edwards, who had started the season by being sacked by their fierce local rivals Watford after just 10 league games.
But one of them will head back up the M1 on Saturday having picked the lock on a windfall, estimated by Deloitte, to be worth at least £170m across the next three seasons.
Both clubs have clearly suffered. But who has suffered the most?
Luton – ‘A lot of hard work from some incredible people’
Victory at Wembley would cap a remarkable change in fortunes for Luton, who dropped out of the Football League in 2009, before taking five seasons to get back in 2014 under John Still – still a hugely popular figure among fans.
They took the next two steps under Jones, back-to-back promotions in 2018 and 2019 before he moved on to Stoke.
Having returned for a second spell to establish the Hatters as Championship promotion contenders, Jones then moved on again in November, this time to Southampton.
Edwards took over and has since presided over 16 wins and just five defeats from 31 matches in charge, to take the team to third place and now, via a two-legged semi-final win over Sunderland, to Wembley.
But Edwards is quick to give credit to the likes of chief executive Gary Sweet and long-time fans’ favourite Mick Harford, who has served Luton in many roles – striker, manager, coach, caretaker boss and now chief recruitment officer.
“Bringing the club back from the brink, Gary and the board deserve so much credit,” Edwards told BBC Three Counties Radio. “Then Mick Harford and the role he’s played, the recruitment team, the various managers – John Still, Nathan and others.
“It’s down to so many people’s hard work and the fans too. They deserve it. They’ve been incredible.”
Having recovered from the brink of liquidation, promotion to the Premier League would transform the club’s fortunes.
For starters it would help fund the building of the new stadium that is central to Luton’s plans and seen as the key to securing their future.
“It would mean so much to everyone. We know it’s a huge occasion,” added Edwards. “I realise what it could do for the club. From a financial point of view, it could secure the club for such a long time and put it on a real sound footing. So I know there’s a lot riding on it.
“It’s something that we’ve got to try to embrace and hope that brings out the best in us on the pitch.”
Luton, relegated from the top flight in 1992, the year the Premier League began, would have to spend an estimated £10m just to get their ageing Kenilworth Road home up to scratch for the Premier League – and even then it would have the smallest capacity.
But, despite the stakes being so high, Edwards is confident his players can keep their nerve.
“Whenever we’ve had big games and big occasions this season the lads have stepped up and performed well,” he said. “I don’t think they’ll be overawed by it. It’ll bring out the best in them.”
Coventry have their own ‘tale of woe’ – Robins
“People talk about journeys, where we’ve both come from,” said Coventry boss Robins. “It’s one for the romantics.
“Luton have come from the National League. I remember it well. It’s been a tough road for them.
“They dropped out of the league when I started my managerial career,” said Robins, whose own Rotherham United side were deducted 17 points for breaching Football League rules at the same level in 2008-09, the year that Luton were docked 30 points and relegated to the fifth tier.
“But it’s been a tough road for us too,” added Robins, who returned to Coventry for a second spell in charge in March 2017 when they were already well on course for a second relegation in five years.
“We’ve got our own tales of woe. But we’re one game away from the Premier League. To be part of that is fantastic. One game away from achieving a dream and changing the club’s future very quickly.
“The change of ownership has accelerated our five-year plan by five years. We’ve got to try and and finish this off, but to be in a position to do that is in itself incredible.
“This season has been exceptional in terms of the start we were handed and all the well documented issues.
“The fact I remained in post when others didn’t. To be bottom of the league in October is generally unacceptable.
“But we managed to navigate our way through a really difficult period and come out the other side. The supporters understood the situation and really backed it, and without them it wouldn’t have happened.
“That’s why it makes it so special as, for me, the biggest achievement since I came through the door is the reconnection between me and the players and the supporters.”
Who can handle the pressure of Wembley?
Coventry captain Liam Kelly was part of the Sky Blues side who beat Exeter City to win the League Two play-off final in 2018.
“I just remember it going so quickly,” he told BBC CWR. “It’s an occasion but you have to play the game. As soon as the whistle blows that is our main focus. We just need to run and perform and keep our heads at the right moments.
“Everybody knows how big a game it is. People didn’t expect us to be in this position. But our form has been fantastic and we can take confidence from that.”
On the flip side of the coin was the experience of Luton striker Carlton Morris, who was on the Shrewsbury Town side beaten 2-1 just a day earlier by Rotherham United in the 2018 League One final.
He was stretchered off just eight minutes after Shrewsbury equalised. And the Millers went on to win in extra time.
“The worst has already happened to me at Wembley so I’ve got nothing to fear,” Morris told BBC Three Counties Radio. “Unfortunately I did my ACL and we lost so it was a double whammy. But any experience can be turned into a positive and that has for me.”
Now he finds himself the 20-goal top scorer in a twin-striker Luton frontline with 10-goal Elijah Adebayo that, with assists added in, has been responsible of two thirds of the Hatters goal output this term – 57 in 46 league games, one fewer than Coventry’s total of 58.
Not dissimilar to the combined output of Coventry pair Viktor Gyokeres – this term’s Championship second top scorer, with 21, plus 11 assists – and Gus Hamer – with 10 goals and 10 assists.
Matt Godden has also crucially weighed in with five goals for Coventry since his return to fitness after three months out, to atone for what at the time seemed the crucial loss on Boxing Day of playmaker Callum O’Hare.
The only senior Luton player out is striker Cauley Woodrow, who has not got over his knee injury.
The Form book
Coventry have failed to beat Luton in any of their past nine meetings, since a 3-0 Sky Blues win at Kenilworth Road in October 2017 – in the season that both teams went up from League Two.
This season’s two meetings both ended in a draw – and Coventry never led in either game.
Luton Town 2 (Morris 4, 15) Coventry City 2 (Gyokeres 11, Hamer 61)
Coventry City 1 (Godden pen 45) Luton Town 1 (Lockyer 1)