The Sunday Mail
LONDON — MARVELOUS NAKAMBA put on a top-drawer midfield performance as he helped Luton Town edge Coventry City and seal promotion into the English Premier Soccer League.
The Warriors star also became the first Zimbabwean to play at the refurbished Wembley and he capped a fine day’s work by coolly converting Luton’s third penalty during a tense shootout which the Hatters edged 6-5.
Although Nakamba will now revert to being an Aston Villa following the expiry of his loan stint at Luton, he appears to have done enough to convince the Hatters to seek a permanent move from Villa.
He has been full value for Luton; also winning a Player of the Month for them along the way and has become a crowd favourite at the Hatters.
Last night, Nakamba put on another near flawless show, disrupting many a Coventry City attacks.
As the match finally came to an end, this time Rob Edwards could celebrate.
The Luton manager had hared off down the touchline with four minutes of extra time to go to celebrate what he thought was the winning goal in front of the Luton supporters, eating up 45 yards of Wembley turf, only to retreat to his technical area ashen-faced after glancing up at the big screen confirming Joseph Taylor’s strike, which would have been his first for the club, had been disallowed for handball.
Jonathan Panzo, on cold as a substitute, dawdled on the ball and Taylor, a 20-year-old on his sixth appearance, nicked it from the Coventry defender, but surged through on goal with the help of his right hand.
Edwards covered his face in embarrassment but an agonising penalty shootout followed and Fankaty Dabo missed the crucial spot-kick as Luton won promotion to the Premier League at Coventry’s expense.
Up in the stands, there were tears of joy for Luton’s chief executive, among many at the club who have been on their journey from non-league until this point.
Until Dabo’s miss, the penalties had been immaculate. Dabo was inconsolable.
Mark Robins, in a Coventry polo shirt, smiled wryly into the camera as the teams lined up before kick-off.
This stadium was a picture, one end a shade of sky blue, the other a blanket of orange.
Rob Edwards, hands on hips, swivelled to survey the scene one last time before the referee, Michael Oliver, got things under way.
Luton had two first-half goals disallowed, the first inside five minutes with Gabriel Osho ruled offside after squeezing the ball in against a post; a determined Tom Lockyer had powered a header towards goal but what would have been a scruffy opener was chalked off.
On 41 minutes, Luton had the ball in the net once more but Elijah Adebayo was penalised for handball after Callum Doyle’s panicked clearance smacked him on the arm.
Luton could have been out of sight.
There were eight minutes of first-half stoppage time, much of which was because of a freakish incident.
Lockyer appeared to collapse when back-pedalling to read an early Coventry attack. He received five minutes of treatment and was carried off on a stretcher wearing an oxygen mask.
Luton later confirmed the Wales defender was taken to hospital for further tests.
Luton’s supporters shielded their eyes from the sun and Edwards pulled his concerned players away from Lockyer to give them an impromptu on-pitch team talk.
Pelly Ruddock Mpanzu, whose first game for Luton was in non-league 10 years ago, took the armband. Both teams were unchanged from their last match.
The incident did not disrupt Luton’s flow and they scored on 23 minutes.
Fifteen yards or so from the Luton goalline Alfie Doughty, the Hattters’ left wing-back, sent a long ball upfield towards Adebayo.
Kyle McFadzean was one-on-one with the striker and Adebayo’s twists and turns led the Coventry centre-back a merry dance.
Clark’s run was not tracked and after Adebayo chopped inside one last time he located his teammate on the edge of Coventry’s 18-yard box.
The Luton midfielder took a brilliant first touch with his right boot and lashed in with his left with his next touch.
Luton’s centre-forwards, Carlton Morris and Adebayo, caused Coventry’s three-man central defence no end of problems.
Coventry were rattled and Luke McNally shanked a routine pass out to his right straight out for a throw-in on halfway.
Morris bullied Doyle, the defender on loan from Manchester City, and his knockdown laid the ball on neatly for Mpanzu but his shot was tame and comfortably gathered by Ben Wilson in the Coventry goal.
Coventry were frozen for much of the first half and did not fashion a meaningful attack until minutes before the interval.
The bustling Gustavo Hamer met Jake Bidwell’s hanging cross at the back post but sent his shot over.
Coventry roused before half-time but nevertheless it was no surprise Robins changed shape. Matt Godden, a striker, replaced Jamie Allen, the midfielder who had failed to bring Viktor Gyökeres into the game.
Liam Kelly, the Coventry captain and only player in the starting lineups to play in this fixture when they were in League Two five years ago, skied a shot after a neat move on the edge of the box.
The Arsenal loanee Brooke Norton-Cuffy went on a rampaging run in the first half and his willing was a positive for Coventry to cling on to.
Ten minutes into the second half Norton-Cuffy sent a devilish cross in from the right but Amari’i Bell was on hand to clear.
Coventry were a different beast now and levelled on 66 minutes after Gyokeres and Hamer dovetailed to devastating effect.
Gyokeres gladly took a bump from Osho to help Coventry retain possession inside their own half and then was fed in down the left channel.
He drove forward and calmly spied the advancing Hamer to his right.
Hamer side-footed the ball in first time and pandemonium followed in one half of the ground. McFadzean endeavoured to have a quiet word with Robins pitchside. The Coventry fans made sure that was a tricky task.
No sooner were the Coventry supporters swooning over Hamer than the midfielder was forced off with injury after landing awkwardly.
Hamer attempted to carry on but was grounded and then replaced by Kasey Palmer, a substitute when Huddersfield won promotion here on penalties six years ago. Hamer’s afternoon ended with an ice pack strapped around his right ankle and Palmer back on the bench, with Robins substituting the substitute in extra time.
It seemed the biggest talking point of added time arrived when Clark was deemed to have dived after Wilson rushed from his goal. Up in the stands Howard Webb, the head of the PGMOL, bit his nails.
That was nothing compared with the intoxicating drama that would follow. — Sports Reporter/Guardian.