Coventry Sphinx’s trouble with penalties continued in a narrow away defeat against Newport
Pagnell Town in the Uhlsport United Counties League Premier Division South.
After losing the previous match 2-1 with all three goals coming from the spot, Shaun Thomas
and John Woodward’s team had a late chance to equalise with a penalty at Willen Road.
This one was missed by inches and Sphinx were beaten 2-1 in a frustrating match of very
Harvey Smith and Ryan Harkin were selected up front in a strong Sphinx team bolstered by
the return of midfielders Jack Downes and Callum Woodward but it was a slow start by the
Newport Pagnell made the early running and carved out the first chance of the game, a shot
that sailed harmlessly over the crossbar but was the best opening in the first quarter of an
The home side quickly showed they were likely to be a threat from set pieces. Sphinx had to
clear an effort off the line from one dead ball in the 18th minute and it served as a useful
Sphinx had started to play some slick football by the middle of the first half, building from a
solid base at the back and thriving on the right thanks to the driving runs of Loz Rawlings at
But the first shot on target came from Newport Pagnell in the 28th minute and goalkeeper
Tom Cross had to get down well to grab it before it found its way into the bottom corner. It
was a decent strike from distance and Cross had to be sharp a minute later to block a shot
at his near post from much closer range.
Sphinx’s first real spell of pressure came after the half-hour mark and this time it was their
turn to show off their set piece abilities. Two consecutive corners from Woodward forced
Newport Pagnell into important clearances, the quality of the deliveries ensuring the home
team had to be on their guard for the remainder of the game.
Danny Fraser was next to test Newport Pagnell goalkeeper Martin Conway, whose
distribution and high starting position were major contributors to his team’s performance
throughout. On this occasion his clean handling was enough to keep Fraser’s curling effort
out of harm’s way.
In the 44th minute Sphinx had a half-chance to open the scoring through Harkin, who looked
to capitalise on Conway’s position with a lob from the edge of the box. It’s a finish we’ve
seen from Harkin many times but he didn’t quite catch this one and Conway was able to field
After a premature whistle for half time the teams headed for the dressing rooms deadlocked
at 0-0, neither having been able to sustain any prolonged attacks or generate a clear
opportunity in front of goal.
Callum Stewart replaced Rawlings at half time for Sphinx and created that opening for
himself with some clever footwork in the first minute of the second half. Newport Pagnell’s
defence had to make a desperate block with Conway beaten.
Seven minutes into the half they took the lead with a goal that was a disappointing
concession from the away team’s point of view. A simple cross in from the right was nodded
home by an unmarked Adam Pryke and Sphinx faced another uphill battle.
Their work rate was there but the goal knocked them back and the performance became a
little disjointed through the game’s third quarter, the only other highlights of which were a
speculative shot high and wide from the home team and a solid, vital one-on-one save by
Cross in the 63rd minute.
Gradually settling into the task that faced them, Sphinx got their equaliser in the 71st minute
and it came, inevitably, from a Woodward corner. His eleventh league assist of 2021/22 was
converted by Louis Guest, who forced his header just over the line to claim his third league
And then it all went wrong. Two minutes after being pegged back, Newport Pagnell kept the
ball alive in the Sphinx box with a couple of headers and it was prodded into the net by
substitute James Burnside to make it 2-1.
It was a tame response from the visitors after going ahead and the game became
dangerously stretched as Sphinx ramped up their hunt for a second equaliser. It never really
looked likely until Fraser made his way into the Newport Pagnell area and was upended by a
defender in the 84th minute.
Woodward’s penalty was a good example of football’s fine margins. Conway was sent to his
left and Woodward clipped his shot the other way with the goalkeeper helpless, only for the
crossbar to come to his rescue; a couple of inches lower, the ball would probably have
bounced over the line.
For the second consecutive Saturday, Sphinx came close to turning 2-1 into 2-2 and
rescuing a point. Against Godmanchester Rovers, a late penalty shout was disregarded by
the referee. Against Newport Pagnell, the spot kick was awarded and came back off the
In truth, either opposition would have rightly been upset not to win. With the nights drawing
in and the season in the grip of autumn, the shape of this new league is taking place.
Sphinx, so far, have been its streaky team: win a few, lose a few, win a few more and lose
But for every frustrating result there’s been a really good one, and there are compelling
reasons to be encouraged. Sphinx haven’t lost by more than a goal in any league game up
to this point and have always been competitive to the last. Even in the two games in which
they looked beaten by half time, the players knew better and came close to unlikely draws.
That determination will be vital as we head into the winter with hopes of building up a head
Cross, Draper, Fraser, Downes, Guest, Bryson, Rawlings (Stewart), Woodward, Smith, Noon
(Stone), Harkin (Adams). Unused subs: Willis, MJ