First half goals from Luke Downes and Matthew Shipman took Coventry Sphinx to a 2-0 win
against Coventry United in their penultimate fixture of the Uhlsport United Counties League
Premier Division South season.
Sphinx joint managers John Woodward and Shaun Thomas brought Downes in to start in
midfield with his brother, Jack, and Lewis Noon, with Callum Martin and Loz Rawlings in the
wing back positions.
Tom Cross continued in goal behind the familiar back three of Jamie Draper, stand-in skipper
Louis Guest and James Bryson, while Shipman's strike partnership with Callum Stewart bore
After a typically frantic opening, Sphinx quickly began to make inroads. In the fourth minute,
Rawlings lobbed a bouncing ball onto the roof of the net after sharp play by Shipman and
The pressure on the away team only increased from there and Sphinx almost took the lead
with just ten minutes played. More quick footwork from Stewart took him past a marker and
into the box, where his pass across goal could easily have teed up Martin's first Sphinx goal.
A minute later the ball dropped for Luke Downes just outside the United box but his effort
was blocked as he tried to force it through a crowd of players in the penalty area. By now,
the away side were on the ropes.
Sphinx were dominant, albeit with a definite raggedness on the ball in attacking positions at
times. The effort was admirable, however, and might have paid off in the 21st minute. Martin
and Stewart tenaciously kept an attack alive on the Sphinx left and the ball was laid off for
Noon, whose ambitious 25-yard strike went over the crossbar.
The midfielder delivered an excellent free kick a couple of minutes later but Stewart could
only glance his header wide, and it was a rather more unorthodox Noon assist that helped
break the deadlock after half an hour.
His corner from the right zipped to the edge of the penalty area, where skipper Guest
stepped over it to leave it for Luke Downes. He shifted the ball from his right foot to his left
and fired it into the top corner.
It was Downes' first home goal since returning to football and it was a spectacular one that
left United goalkeeper Kris Roscoe helpless and his team a goal down.
Four minutes later a powerful Rawlings effort was blocked after United had partially cleared
a free kick, and Sphinx just kept on piling on the pressure.
In the 39th minute, Stewart, imperious in the first half, produced a fine switch to tempt Martin
into a run into the left channel. He dug out a terrific cross and Shipman flashed a header
Sphinx were comfortably on top as half time approached and came close to doubling their
lead with a goal that would have been argued over in the city for years.
Injured United goalkeeper Roscoe miscued a clearance and went down as Shipman pulled
in the ball and worked it to Stewart, who lobbed it just over the bar with Roscoe still on the
Sphinx needed to take advantage of their clear superiority and five minutes of injury time
gave them the opportunity to do it.
Jack Downes intercepted the ball in midfield and strode forward with intent. Stewart took
over and tucked the ball into the box for Shipman, who coolly controlled and passed it into
the bottom corner to make it 2-0 going into the break.
The hosts didn’t have it all their own way in a slightly more evenly matched second half but
they were within a whisker of making it 3-0 in the early minutes. Rawlings whipped a pass
across the face of goal from a deep position but neither Shipman nor Stewart was able to
apply the vital touch on the stretch.
Sphinx had the game under control and always looked like they had a gear in reserve if
needed. On the hour, a corner from substitute Harvey Billing dropped invitingly for Guest,
who saw his snapshot blocked by a United defender.
Jack Downes didn’t miss by much after chesting the ball down and taking on a half-volley
from 25 yards a minute later, and United finally had their first shot of the game in the 64th
minute and their second in the 65th. Both were high and wide of Cross’s goal.
But the Sphinx goalkeeper was called into action in the 66th minute as United pushed to get
back into the game. Striker Brian Ndlovu evaded a couple of tackles to drive into the Sphinx
box but Cross got a foot to his shot, looping it up and off the post.
The game turned the way of the hosts again as a flurry of chances lit up the middle of the
half. Shipman had a volley blocked after a corner led to a bout of penalty box pinball, before
Luke Downes made space for a shot after a good Sphinx move but curled over with his right
Martin also went over in the 72nd minute after a neat pass from Stewart, and Sphinx’s top
goalscorer soon laid a pass off for substitute Sufyan Zia, who was shoved as he hit a shot
that ended up just wide of Roscoe’s goal.
Sphinx were in charge but not quite hitting the heights of the first half. Nevertheless, those
little interventions and blocks by the United defence were instrumental in keeping the score
down going into the last quarter of an hour.
In the 78th minute Guest won the ball in the air from a corner and knocked it down for
Shipman, whose shot was saved well by Roscoe at the near post. United worked the ball up
the pitch and Ndlovu’s shot had the attention of Cross but was always curling wide.
The teams exchanged chances again in the 81st minute. Billing headed over from a Zia free
kick for Sphinx at one end; Ndlovu’s header at the back post was saved to thwart United at
Billing and Martin began one of the game’s best passages of play with five minutes left on
the clock. Stewart and Shipman played a one-two to send Stewart clear but Roscoe made a
terrific save to keep United within a couple of goals as time ran out.
All they could manage in the remaining minutes was a header that deflected wide at the start
of another long period of injury time, but in truth the contest had long since been over.
The win took Sphinx back into fourth place in the league ahead of a Newport Pagnell Town
team with one game in hand but Harborough Town to contend with on the last day of the
After Harborough ended Sphinx's long unbeaten run just two days earlier, the team's
response on Easter Monday was everything we've come to expect from them.
As long as there is a league position up for grabs, Thomas and Woodward’s boys in sky blue
and white will fight tooth and nail for it. So late in the season, that’s to be admired.
Cross, Draper, Martin (J. Kennedy), J. Downes, Guest, Bryson, Rawlings, Noon (Billing),
Shipman, Stewart, L. Downes (Zia). Unused subs: Dumbleton, Gyamera