D-Day for Nakamba . . . Midfielder eyes EPL return in playoff against Coventry City
Eddie Chikamhi-Senior Sports Reporter
ZIMBABWE international Marvelous Nakamba is set to play his most important game in Luton Town’s colours when he leads the modest side in the final promotion play-off for English Premiership football against Coventry City at the iconic Wembley Stadium this afternoon.
The 29-year-old has been a key player in the Hatters’ campaign for promotion ever since he joined them on loan from Aston Villa on deadline day of the January transfer window.
His deal was set to run until the end of the season, meaning this could be his last game for Luton Town.
But Nakamba could stay longer if manager Rob Edwards bids for his services. Villa recently revealed that all their loaned players, including Nakamba, could be sold permanently.
Still, Nakamba could find himself back in the English topflight if results go their way in today’s winner take-all.
The EFL Championship play-off final is commonly referred to as the most lucrative game of football in the sport and Luton Town could get the funding to finance the acquisition of Nakamba if they are interested in his services beyond the end of the season.
Both Luton Town and Coventry City had no backers at the start of the season to reach Wembley. Both have suffered extreme financial difficulty in recent years but have risen up the divisions and are now one game away from making it to the Premier League.
While incredible from a sporting perspective, the financial incentives also make promotion a real money spinner.
Fan-favourite Nakamba did well in the sold-out semi-final games against Sunderland as the Hatters staged a spirited comeback to claim a 3-2 aggregate win over gutsy Sunderland over the two legs.
The Warriors midfielder appears to have rediscovered himself again, under Hatters manager Rob Edwards, who has helped him bury a disappointing season at Villa last year.
He has been hailed as one of the best loanees at Luton Town, who had an impressive finish to the Championship campaign, finishing third, behind champions Burnley and second-placed Sheffield, who secured automatic promotion to the EPL.
Oliver Kay of the Oak Road Hatter described Nakamba as “the difference between winning and losing the playoffs.”
“I can’t fail to mention Marvelous Nakamba, who Rob Edwards has mentioned is currently his favourite player in world football. I described him as the difference between making the playoffs and missing out.
“Now I believe he is the difference between winning and losing the playoffs,” wrote Kay in his review.
Since signing Nakamba, Luton Town recorded the second-most points gained in the Championship, conceded fewer goals and were only second to Burnley and most importantly they reached the play-off final.
Luton Town moved closer to being promoted to the EPL by turning around a 1-2 deficit, as they went on to beat Sunderland 2-0 in the reverse fixture at home, to claim a 3-2 aggregate.
The EFL play-offs are a series of knockout matches that determine which team will be promoted to the Premier League. The play-offs involve the teams that finish between third and sixth place in the EFL Championship. The winner of the play-offs earns a place in the Premier League, which is the top tier of English football.
Luton boss Edwards speaking told Sky Sports: “It’s incredible. I’m so proud of the players and pleased for this football club, these fans and everyone connected to the club.
“To get to Wembley and a final is incredible. When you get to finals it becomes about winning so I’m aware that there’s still a job to do. But it is a great feeling,” he said.
Luton Town technically have never played in the Premier League. They got relegated from the top division during the 1991-92 campaign, just the season before the Premier League was started. Since getting relegated in 1992, the Hatters could never get promoted back to the top tier again.
And, 31 years later, they find themselves on the verge of history.