Coventry Sphinx’s run in the 2021/22 Buildbase FA Vase came to a sickening end in a
penalty shoot-out against Midland Football League outfit Whitchurch Alport. The Fifth Round
tie ended 3-3 after 90 minutes and the visitors from Shropshire won the shoot-out 4-2 to
claim a quarter-final place that should have been beyond their reach.
Joint managers John Woodward and Shaun Thomas were able to name a strong starting
eleven, with Tom Cross in goal and the familiar trio of Jamie Draper, Louis Guest and James
Bryson in defence.
Lewis Chester and Loz Rawlings started at wing back, skipper Callum Woodward was joined
in midfield by Jack Downes and Lewis Noon, and Callum Stewart had a new partner up
Matthew Shipman made a goalscoring debut after signing from Long Buckby AFC but there
was no second debut for another signing, Joel Grandison, who returned to Sphinx and was
named on the bench.
It was an even start but Sphinx’s desire gave them an early edge against an Alport side
delayed on the day by a broken down coach. Stewart’s hustle caused them a problem in the
third minute, when he kept the ball alive and supplied Shipman for his first shot in a Sphinx
Goalkeeper Ellis Allen had to be sharp to get down and flick Shipman’s firmly struck low shot
wide of his post for a corner. Stewart was presented with a good chance four minutes later
but couldn’t keep his volley down after Noon’s superb cross from the right had picked him
It was by no means one-way traffic. As early as the eighth minute Cross had to get down
well to gather a cross from the Alport right in a dangerous situation, but as the visitors
stepped into a high line it was becoming clear that Sphinx would be able to get them turned.
The opening goal came from a defensive error that left Stewart in possession and in a
position to shoot. He did just that. Allen saved it, and Bryson headed Woodward’s corner
home to make it 1-0 with a little over twelve minutes played.
The home team barely settled into their lead before it was gone. The referee awarded a
penalty to Alport after quarter of an hour and Alex Hughes tucked in a nerveless penalty. It
was to become the theme of the afternoon in more ways than one.
Sphinx initially responded well to the setback but Alport were giving as good as they got,
posing plenty of attacking danger in their own right. But it was the hosts who had the real
chances and Alport, again, were partly culpable.
In the 27th minute the tenacious Woodward was able to nick the ball off a defender 25 yards
from goal and was obviously fouled as he lined up a shot that ended up going over the
crossbar, but nothing was given.
Five minutes later, with the tension ratcheting up, Alport produced a one-two on the edge of
the Sphinx box only for the low shot to zip wide of the far post.
Sphinx regained the lead in the 35th minute. After Allen had fluffed an attempt to tip over a
threatening cross, the ball dropped right in front of goal and Stewart was sniffing around to
challenge Alport defender George Carpenter for a crucial touch on the line. Carpenter got
there first by punching it away from the Sphinx forward’s head.
After a moment’s thought, the assistant referee signalled for a penalty kick and, despite
some particularly aggressive and offensive complaints among the visiting support as the
officials left the field at half time, the referee had no option but to dismiss the defender.
Stewart sent Allen the wrong way and fired his spot kick inside the post and into the corner
of the net.
Any suggestion that the home side would look to take a one-goal advantage into the half
time break were quickly proved wrong. After excellent work by Rawlings on the right, Stewart
received the ball in the box and dropped a shoulder before whipping a vicious left-footed
shot towards goal. Allen’s save was magnificent. From the resulting corner, Bryson found
space again but could only lob the ball onto the top of the net.
But Sphinx did take a 3-1 lead thanks to a first goal in sky blue and white for Shipman, who
was impressing in his first appearance for the club. In the first minute of stoppage time he
intercepted an awful pass at the back for Alport, got the ball out of his feet and drilled a
powerful strike across Allen and into the far corner.
With a two-goal advantage and an extra man, Sphinx should have been in the driving seat.
What followed after half time was a gut-wrenching lesson in taking such things for granted.
Even without complacency, football has a way of taking a surprising turn.
Alport deserve praise for the manner of their second half comeback. Sphinx were
outmatched and outgunned, and while they were understandably full of shock and
self-criticism after the fact, the visitors’ attitude and the coolness of Hughes when destiny
came calling were a credit to them.
Had Sphinx found a fourth goal when they had the impetus, it might all have been all so
different. Noon’s sweet left-footed strike was fielded by Allen in the 47th minute and Alport
responded in kind three minutes later, another low shot drifting wide as they showed no sign
of being at a disadvantage.
They inevitably started to put the pressure on, knowing the tie would slip away from them if
they didn’t, but Sphinx’s ability on the break threatened – briefly – to catch them out as they
sought a way back into the match.
With games against Desborough Town and Lutterworth Town on the way before Cogenhoe
United come to Sphinx Drive, there will be no time for self-pity. The season is far from over
and the team owe it to themselves to finish in the high league position their attitude and
Cross, Draper (Billing), Chester (L. Downes), J. Downes, Guest, Bryson, Rawlings,
Woodward, Shipman, Stewart, Noon. Unused subs: J. Kennedy, Donkor, Grandison,