48 mins: Diallo wins an early corner for Sunderland on the left. But corners aren’t Sunderland’s greatest weapon given their height disadvantages and Luton initially clear, but Sunderland come again, and Pritchard eventually glides elegantly down the right and skims over a low cross that Gelhardt flicks wide of the near post.
Peep! Sunderland kick off the second half. No changes to either side from what I can make out.
Out they come again …
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In other news, NOTTS COUNTY ARE BACK IN THE FOOTBALL LEAGUE
Much to chew over there then. Sunderland initially came storming out of the traps, but Luton’s goal, from their first corner, presaged a spell of strategic dominance with Sunderland appearing out-thought and outfought, but then Amad Diallo’s magnificent equaliser raised the roof and Sunderland spirits, and this one could go any way now. “At this rate, it’s not going to end 11 v 11,” says Joe Pearson after a half of feisty challenges. See you in a bit.
Half-time: Sunderland 1-1 Luton
An absorbing, fluctuating half comes to a close.
45+1 mins: Ekwah, Roberts and Diallo have suddenly grown into this, and Ekwah starts and ends another home attack but his firm shot is too close to the keeper.
45 mins: Gooch initiates another attack down the left, it’s worked across to Diallo, who cuts inside from right to left and sends another curling left-foot shot over. Sunderland regroup and win another corner but Luton eventually clear. Two minutes will be added on.
42 mins: Luton have to watch their clumsy fouling here, they’re conceding too many and Sunderland come again. Ekwah drives into traffic in the box and goes to ground in a tussle with Mpanzu but it’s 50-50 and the referee waves play on. There’s a hell of an atmosphere here now.
And Notts County v Chesterfield has gone to penalties.
40 mins: Sunderland are level with a sensational curling shot from Diallo, receiving the free-kick as it was tapped to him and wrapping a left-foot shot into the far corner. Class tells.
Goal! Sunderland 1-1 Luton (Diallo 39)
Like I said, he’d done nothing so far …
38 mins: Rare defensives sloppiness from Luton gives the home side an opportunity from an attacking throw, which gives them some welcome territorial pressure, and Roberts wins a free-kick after wriggling past one challenge and then being felled by Mpanzu’s foul. The Luton man is booked. And then …
35 mins: ABell dispossesses Ekwah, who’d been attempting a run down the right and Luton press and play it around again inside Sunderland’s half. They are bossing this in terms of tactics and industry at the moment.
33 mins: Gelhardt and Clarke combine to win a throw on the left for Sunderland, but Luton are crowding all the spaces, pressing and countering, and the attack breaks down. Diallo hasn’t been in this match at all.
32 mins: … Doughty’s bouncing low delivery is gathered by a diving Patterson.
31 mins: Booking: O’Nien fouls Clark on the edge of the area, smashing him in the face with his elbow and getting a yellow card for it. Free-kick in a dangerous position …
29 mins: Booking: Nakamba pole-axes Gelhardt on halfway and gets the booking Sunderland fans have been demanding for a while.
26 mins: Better from Sunderland, as Gelhardt slickly plays in Pritchard down the left but Luton cover well and the cross is smothered.
25 mins: Lovely play from Clark, who slips Gooch and escapes down the right and slides over a presentable low ball to Adebayo, whose shot is deflected for a corner. Luton’s second corner is not as threatening as their first and Patterson gathers it. “We’ve got super Robbie Edwards,” sing the Hatters fans high up behind the goal (they do love a vertiginous away end in the north-east don’t they)
22 mins: Morris wins possession inside the Sunderland half again and slaloms forward but his shot is on-target and low but lacking power and Patterson gathers.
21 mins: Sunderland have not always been as fluent at home as away this term, and we’re seeing some of that here. Bell, who’s been influential so far, storms down the left and plays in Nakamba inside the area but his shot is blocked.
19 mins: Sunderland get a rare chance to pass it about a bit in midfield but Luton’s hunger snuffs them out again and they get forward down the right through Adebayo, who spurns the chance to play an overlapping pass to his right and skims a shot wide.
16 mins: Booking: Sunderland’s Dan Neil is booked for clattering Morris,
15 mins: Luton’s confidence has immediately picked up after a tough opening, pushing higher and stifling Sunderland, who forge forward through Pritchard, who wants a free-kick after going to ground just outside the area but nothing given
11 mins: This was Luton’s height advantage showing, Morris sending a deep delivery back across goal, the bout of head tennis caused confusion and Adebayo pounced on it from close range to belt it home.
Goal! Sunderland 0-1 Luton (Adebayo 11)
10 mins: Now Luton win a corner on the right and score from it!
9 mins: Chance! Robert cuts in from the right and curls a low bouncing left-foot shot towards the far corner but Horvath unconvincingly palms it out. Gelhardt can’t convert on the rebound.
7 mins: Clarke is looking a threat already, seizing possession after some forceful Sunderland midfield pressing and winning a corner after a run down the inside left but Luton clear, for now. Sunderland are at it here.
5 mins: Adebayo gets down the right and sends in a looping cross to Morris whose header is comfortably gathered by Patterson, and Sunderland then break easily through Clarke down the left. He gets as far as the box before angling a shot into the side netting.
3 mins: An early injury scare for Luton, Lockyer seemingly caught by a stray arm in the middle of the park. Nothing given and Lockyer OK to continue.
2 mins: Roberts begins a foray down the right as a statement of intent, winning a throw on halfway before Sunderland give it away but Luton’s attack comes to nothing.
Peep! And Luton get us under way
The teams emerge to a packed and cacophonous Stadium of Light
Some brief pre-match chat with the managers: Rob Edwards says he needs players such as Tom Lockyer and Amari’i Bell to counter Sunderland’s attacking strengths – “we’ve gone for legs in that part of the pitch” – with Sonny Bradley missing out.
Tony Mowbray refuses to pigeonhole his side’s system – “the days are almost gone when you define your system, it’s a fluid system depending on when you’re attacking, when you’ve got the ball and when you haven’t
Nathan Jones – the widely admired former Luton manager turned widely derided Southampton quotes machine – is in the Sky studio praising the overall culture of the club where he enjoyed considerable success.
Oh, and Notts County have equalised against Chesterfield. They do love a late goal.
Returning to today’s teams Sunderland are set out in a 4-2-3-1 with Joe Gelhardt up front, Luton – who make eight changes from their warmup-ish match against Hull on Monday – are in a 3-5-2 – with Elijah Adebayo and Carlton Morris their front two.
Throwing things forward to tomorrow’s other semi-final, the second of three consecutive meetings of Coventry and Middlesbrough, Ben Fisher’s been chatting to the Sky Blues’ goalkeeper Ben Wilson, who is setting his sights on the big time after a nomadic career:
At least one of these teams will be playing Southampton next season, because the Saints’ relegation has been confirmed by a limp 0-2 home defeat by Fulham:
And it’s finished Bolton 1-1 Barnsley.
In other playoff news, the League One semi between Bolton and Barnsley is currently 1-1 with three minutes remaining in Lancashire, Bolton’s Dion Charles cancelling out Nicky Cadden’s opener. And Chesterfield still lead Notts County 1-0 in the National League final at Wembley. Follow it below:
The teams are in
Sunderland: Patterson; Gooch, Hume, O’Nien, Pritchard, Neil,
Ekwah, Roberts, Diallo, Clarke, Gelhardt. Subs: Huggins, Bass,
Ba, Taylor, Lihadji, Michut, Anderson.
Luton: Horvath; Osho, Bell, Lockyer, Drameh, Mpanzu, Nakamba, Clark, Doughty, Adebayo, Morris. Subs: Shea, Potts, Berry,
Burke, Campbell, Onyedinma, Freeman.
Referee: Tim Robinson (West Sussex)
Afternoon everyone, with one of the most captivating chapters of the season under way – as long as you’re not a fan of any of the teams involved. Yes, the playoffs are upon us – a thrilling holiday in other people’s stress. But we have two upbeat, upwardly mobile sides before us at the Stadium of Light this evening, each of whom are no strangers to playoffs, having competed in them last season.
Luton arrive in the North-east on the back of a 14-match unbeaten run and, though they never really looked likely to crack the top two this term, have punched magnificently above their weight once again – testament to what progressive ownership and enlightened management can deliver. And if Hatters fans want omens, ending a second-tier campaign with 14 unbeaten games is precisely what they did in 1982, when they were last promoted to the top flight.
They also have a manager, Rob Edwards. who knows how to win promotion, having done so with Forest Green in League Two last year before jumping ship to Watford, who swiftly binned him off because, you know, Watford. But the mid-table Hornets’ loss has very much been Luton’s gain.
Town, who had the second-best defence in the Championship over the regular season, are expected to be without their striker Cauley Woodrow with a knee problem for the two legs against Sunderland, whose injury problems dwarf those of their opponents. Tony Mowbray’s side have had to do without their talismanic forward Ross Stewart since January, but have responded by sharing the goals around amid a crisp attacking style.
The Manchester United loanee Amad Diallo has attracted the most attention, deservedly, but the likes of Pierre Ekwah, Jack Clarke, Patrick Roberts and Alex Pritchard have also excelled. (And having spent my own season watching a team without a target man canter to the League Two title, it’s not all about the Big Lad Up Top in the EFL this term). Mowbray too is one of the game’s slightly undervalued and all-round decent managers, and he’s done a fine job giving Sunderland a chance of a second successive promotion.
This should be good. Kick-off 5.30pm BST.