Sunderland vs Luton predictions: Hatters to secure first-leg advantage on the road
The Championship playoffs will get underway on Saturday, with Sunderland playing host to Luton in the first leg of their semi-final tie at the Stadium of Light.
Sunderland snuck into the playoffs on the final day of the regular season, edging out the likes of Millwall and Blackburn to finish sixth in the standings.
Luton had no such final-day dramas, with the Hatters having long secured their place in the top six, and they finished the season in third position, a full 11 points clear of their semi-final opponents.
These two sides both ended the regular campaign in good form, but something will have to give over the two legs of their semi-final tie, with only one of the teams making it through to Wembley and potentially within 90 minutes of the Premier League.
Sunderland's 3-0 victory at Preston on the final day of the regular season did come at a cost, as defender Dennis Cirkin and midfielder Lynden Gooch were both forced off with injuries and could now miss Saturday's first leg.
Danny Batth, Dan Ballard, and Aji Alese also missed the win at Deepdale, and it remains to be seen if any of that trio are available to return this weekend.
Luton have no fresh injuries to report, and after making eight changes for last weekend's goalless draw with Hull to round off the regular season, manager Rob Edwards is expected to recall the likes of Pelly Ruddock Mpanzu, Elijah Adebayo and Carlton Morris to his starting XI.
Sunderland ended the regular season on a nine-match unbeaten run, but four of their last five home matches in the division finished all square.
That was a familiar theme for the Black Cats all year, as only 30 of their 69 Championship points were picked up at the Stadium of Light, leaving them with only the 16th-best home record in the division.
Luton ended the regular campaign on the longest unbeaten run in the second tier, as they have avoided defeat in each of their last 14 games, while their only Championship defeat in 20 matches came against champions Burnley on home soil in mid-February.
The Hatters are also unbeaten away from home in the league this calendar year, a run that includes a 1-1 draw against Sunderland at the Stadium of Light in March.
Recent meetings between these two sides have tended to be closely fought, and this promises to be no different given the form of both teams and what is at stake.
However, Luton have had the luxury of being confirmed in the playoffs for some time, and Edwards' team should come into this contest fresh and ready for the challenge that awaits them.
Only Burnley held a better away record in the second tier than Luton during the regular season, with the Hatters winning nearly half of their 23 matches on the road and, given Sunderland's home struggles, it would be no surprise to see the visitors earn a first-leg advantage to take back to Kenilworth Road for Tuesday's second leg.
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