After yet another captivating season in the Championship, Coventry City and Luton Town do battle at Wembley Stadium on Saturday evening as they bid to secure a surprise place in next year’s Premier League.
The Sky Blues and Hatters head into the Championship playoff final having overcome North-East giants Middlesbrough and Sunderland in the two-legged semi-finals.
Back on September 14, after these two teams had played out a 2-2 draw at the CBS Arena, Luton found themselves in 18th position and winless Coventry were bottom, albeit with matches in hand due to the poor condition of their pitch.
Fast forward eight-and-a-half months and they are now preparing for one of the biggest occasions in their history, most certainty for Luton who have never graced the Premier League.
Much has been made of how Luton were in the Conference Premier in 2013-14 and how Coventry were relegated to League Two in 2016-17, yet it is only a small part of the narrative ahead of the showpiece at Wembley.
There was simmering frustration when Rob Edwards – most recently at rivals Watford – was chosen as Nathan Jones’s replacement at Luton in November, but his appointment has proven to be a masterstroke.
Sixteen wins and just five defeats have come from his 31 contests in charge, while Luton had been on a 14-game undefeated streak before they lost the first leg of their semi-final at Sunderland.
That setback for the division’s third-placed side has now been forgotten, a consequence of their dominant 2-0 triumph in the reverse fixture as they out-hustled the Black Cats.
A day later, Coventry went into the second leg of their own last-four tie with Middlesbrough as the underdogs to leave the Riverside Stadium with the result that they required to move to the brink of ending a 22-year absence from the top flight.
Mark Robins’s side had failed to register a single shot on target in three halves of football across the two legs before Gustavo Hamer’s brilliantly-executed effort in the second period of the reverse fixture proved to be the difference.
Although any kind of victory over Boro is impressive enough, preventing the division’s second-highest goalscorers from netting across 180 minutes plus added-on time is arguably a greater feat.
Coventry travel to Wembley on a nine-match undefeated streak and have lost just once in 19 games, that no more than a minor blip even if it did come by a 4-0 scoreline at home to Stoke City.
During the regular season, Luton scored just one more goal than Coventry, while that heavy defeat to the Potters contributed to Coventry conceding seven more goals than their next opponents across the 46 games.
Everything points to this fixture being decided by small margins in a match which takes place 115 years on from their first-ever clash in the Southern League First Division.
Barring any fitness issues, Coventry boss Robins only has a selection dilemma with regards to his central midfielders and attack.
Only two of Josh Eccles, Ben Sheaf, Jamie Allen and Matt Godden will play, the latter being removed from the forward line to accommodate creative midfielder Allen in the second leg.
Godden is more likely to get the nod, partnering leading marksman Viktor Gyokeres, while one of Eccles or Sheaf will feature in the central three, but it remains to be seen whether Kasey Palmer and Tyler Walker will be fit enough to return to the substitutes’ bench.
Edwards named the same Luton XI for both legs of the semi-final and it would come as a surprise if he tinkers with his starting lineup.
Allan Campbell may be considered as an alternative to Jordan Clark in midfield, with Reece Burke an option for the back three if Edwards decides that a greater physical presence is required to help deal with Gyokeres.
Cauley Woodrow has failed to recover from a knee injury in time to feature among the replacements.
Coventry City possible starting lineup:
Wilson; McNally, McFadzean, Doyle; Norton-Cuffy, Hamer, Kelly, Sheaf, Bidwell; Godden, Gyokeres
Luton Town possible starting lineup:
Horvath; Osho, Lockyer, Bell; Drameh, Clark, Nakamba, Mpanzu, Doughty; Adebayo, Morris