Wednesday, 1 May 2019

League One promotion: Luton Town and Barnsley return to Championship for 2019-20

Luton Town and Barnsley have secured promotion back to the Championship after Tuesday's results saw both Portsmouth and Sunderland lose.

Pompey lost 3-2 at home to Peterborough, while the Black Cats were beaten 2-1 at Fleetwood Town.

Luton will be back in the second tier following a 12-year absence, while Barnsley have secured an immediate return after relegation last season.

The Hatters are now favourites to seal the League One title on Saturday.

Barnsley, level on 91 points, could still overhaul them even if Luton are victorious at home to Oxford United, but only with a heavy win at Bristol Rovers.

The Tykes are currently four goals worse off on goal difference and have scored less too (79 to the Hatters' 87), so they would have to win by a margin five goals better than whatever Luton manage.

If Luton fail to win, Barnsley would simply have to better their result to finish as champions.

Luton had fallen into non-league for five years following their departure from the Championship in 2007, but have competed their return courtesy of a third promotion in six seasons.

Financial problems led to points deductions - which saw the club docked 10 points in 2007-08 and 30 points the season after - as they suffered three successive relegations to drop out of the English Football League 10 years ago.

John Still started the rise back up English football's pyramid when Luton won the Conference in 2014, Nathan Jones took them up behind Accrington Stanley from League Two a year ago - and now caretaker boss Mick Harford, Luton's manager when they were relegated from the Football League in 2009, has returned the club to the second tier.

Luton's promotion challenge did not look at all likely over the first few weeks of the season, after they picked up one point from their first three games and were 12th after 10 matches.

But, from the end of October, they were almost unstoppable. Not even the mid-season departure of Nathan Jones to Stoke City, described by chief executive Gary Sweet as "a little bit unethical" could disrupt them.

Luton reeled off six league wins on the spin under Harford as they went 28 league games unbeaten before losing at Charlton Athletic in mid-April.

The division's top scorer James Collins has been a huge influence since the turn of the year, having netted 16 of his 25 goals this season since Boxing Day.

With Harford expected to step aside for a longer-term appointment in the summer and plans for a new 23,000-capacity stadium gaining traction, the Kenilworth Road outfit will hope they can repeat their late 1980s and early 1990s heydays, when they spent a decade in the top flight.
After relegation under Jose Morais 12 months ago, to further mar a season clouded by the loss of owner Patrick Cryne, Barnsley's march to promotion under new German boss Daniel Stendel has always looked a distinct possibility.

After starting the season without conceding a goal in their first four matches, only once did they really wobble, when they suffered back-to-back defeats at Charlton and Shrewsbury Town in late October.

Victory at home to Fleetwood in April kicked off a run our four successive wins which ultimately secured promotion, as Portsmouth and Sunderland's respective challenges faltered.

It speaks volumes for the respect with which they are held that five Barnsley players - goalkeeper Adam Davies, defenders Dimitri Cavare and Ethan Pinnock, midfielder Alex Mowatt and striker Kieffer Moore - were named in the PFA League One team of the season.

Now the test for Barnsley, having got back to second-tier level, is to stay there, which they did for eight straight years from 2006 to 2014.

Having then spent two seasons in League One, before going back up via the play-offs in 2016, they came back down two seasons later.

But this time they have taken just one season to get back up and, assuming they can hang on to him in the same way that they did not with his promotion-winning predecessor Paul Heckingbottom, they maybe look in better shape under Stendel to consolidate.

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