Match Report 11.12.21 FA Vase Sphinx 1-0 Coventry United

Match Report 11.12.21 FA Vase Sphinx 1-0 Coventry United

By Sharon Taylor
11 December 2021
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By Chris Nee


The true nature of a football team reveals itself when the going gets tough. In December, in
freezing rain, shirkers are quickly exposed and battlers stand up to be counted.
Coventry Sphinx had the odds stacked against them for their Buildbase FA Vase Third
Round clash against Coventry United. The visitors are higher up the league table and
Sphinx's personnel problems presented joint managers John Woodward and Shaun Thomas
with a conundrum.
Defender Louis Guest's suspension after a red card at Harborough Town was exacerbated
by a long-term injury sustained by Danny Fraser in the same game. Deprived of two of their
most consistent defensive performers, Sphinx had been forced to shuffle the pack in the
previous league match and for this cup tie.
Loz Rawlings moved from right to left to cover the loss of Fraser, with Lewis Chester
replacing him at right wing back once more. Jack Downes remained in defence with James
Bryson and Jamie Draper.
Sphinx welcomed back two familiar faces on the bench. Luke Downes and Harvey Billing
both returned to the club to boost the tactical options and deepen the midfield.
The match began in frantic fashion but the home side set about the job with determination
and no little confidence as they quickly gained control.
With nine minutes played, Callum Stewart flicked on a throw-in to create a chance for striker
Harvey Smith. Smith used his strength to hold off a marker but was off-balance and unable
to hit the target with his shot.
He buried his next chance to claim the only goal of the tie. Strike partner Jamal Adams, who
scored twice in the previous round at Racing Club Warwick, produced a terrific cut-back
across the box. Stewart couldn't get a touch but Smith was waiting to stroke the ball past
Reece Francis in the United goal.
Smith's fourth of the season might have felt like a long time coming but his performances
continue to warrant his place and the reaction of his team-mates shows how highly he's
regarded. He has now won twice as often as not in a Sphinx shirt, and that's no coincidence.
The visitors then kept the ball on the grass for a spell and started to build some pressure in
the middle of the half, but their first chance came from a long throw-in. Goalkeeper Tom
Cross easily fielded the snapshot from the edge of the area.
Sphinx dragged themselves back on top and thought they'd doubled the lead in the 30th
minute. Francis parried a dangerous low cross from Smith and Stewart followed in to poke it
home. Referee Simon Kavanagh discussed it with his assistant and the goal was ruled out
for offside.
The match deteriorated into a scrap as half time approached; Sphinx, again, showed plenty
of character to emerge on top in most 50/50 situations.
United tried to change the script with an attacking substitution at the break but it was the
home team who came out baring their teeth at the start of the second half. Nevertheless, the
visitors had the first opening of a tough half. A diving header from a sharp volleyed cross
could easily have drawn them level.
The game's biggest turning point came in the 59th minute after a tackle by Sphinx captain
Callum Woodward. The reaction of the away team preceded a red card, leaving Sphinx to
see out the remaining half an hour with ten men.
But only then came the crucial moment in the match. United's Dom Perkins was shown a
second yellow card for his part in the ensuing melee and followed Woodward off the field.
United mounted a period of pressure in the middle of the second half, just as they had in the
first, but meaningful chances were similarly few and far between.
In the 71st minute a clever flick from Bryson landed at the feet of Francis from Lewis Noon's
near-post corner at the other end, and Sphinx started to retain the ball in the attacking third
to take the sting out of the match.
In the 83rd minute a corner came in from the right and found substitute Billing at the back
post. He headed it down and saw it bounce up and over the crossbar, taking with it the
chance to score his second cup goal against United.
Three minutes later, some clever play from Stewart and Sphinx's other substitute, Leo Stone,
released Chester on the right. He sent a rasping shot over from a tight angle.
Sphinx navigated five minutes of stoppage time with consummate ease and, on reflection,
can be satisfied that they rarely seemed in any real danger throughout the ninety-plus
minutes of an entertaining but challenging cup tie.
Much has already been said about this match. Some of it has been spicy, some downright
bizarre – The Non-League Paper's report was spectacularly rouge-tinted – but when all is
said and done, Smith made the difference that mattered.
This was a massive result for Sphinx but not because of the identity of the opposition. They
kept their eyes on the prize, stayed focused on what was really at stake, and progressed to
the Fourth Round of the FA Vase for the first time in fourteen years.
Sphinx played the game, not the distraction, and were richly rewarded for giving everything
in very difficult conditions. Everyone stood up and fought for a place in the hat. Everything
else is just noise.
Teamsheet
Cross, J. Downes, Rawlings, Noon, Draper, Bryson, Chester, Woodward, Smith (Stone),
Stewart, Adams (Billing). Unused subs: L. Downes, Semedo, J. Kennedy, Selley-Haywood
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