Coventry Sphinx continued their excellent unbeaten run with a gutsy 2-1 home win over
Newport Pagnell Town, moving past them into fourth in the Uhlsport United Counties League
Premier Division South table.
Although the Buildbase FA Vase semi-finalists have games in hand on Shaun Thomas and
John Woodward’s side, climbing from eighth to fourth since their own Vase exit is a satisfying
marker of the quality and character of what’s become a Sphinx team we’ll remember for a
Sphinx were able to welcome Jamie Draper back into defence in front of goalkeeper Tom
Cross and alongside Louis Guest and James Bryson, with the managers opting for a midfield
trio of Jack Downes, Lewis Noon and captain Callum Woodward. Loz Rawlings and Callum
Martin continued at wing back, with Matthew Shipman partnering Callum Stewart up front.
The match got off to a flying start in the sunshine at Sphinx Drive, with both sides settling
very quickly and getting stuck into an entertaining encounter. Newport Pagnell created the
first opening with five minutes played, but Draper blocked the shot into the side netting after
a wind-assisted long pass from the back.
Sphinx had the ball in the net five minutes later when Stewart followed in Martin’s cross-shot
and tapped it in, but the goal was immediately ruled out by the assistant referee’s flag.
After quarter of an hour Newport Pagnell were awarded a free kick just inside the Sphinx half
and the delivery from deep zipped across the face of goal but just evaded a touch that would
surely have resulted in an early lead.
The visitors took the initiative in the middle of the first half. Soon after dragging a shot
harmlessly wide from distance, they forced Cross into action with a clever turn and shot from
the edge of the penalty area. The Sphinx goalkeeper had to be sharp to make a solid save.
He was involved in a direct attacking move in the 25th minute. His long free kick into the
Newport Pagnell box was partially cleared but dropped to Woodward, who threaded a pass
through for Stewart. The in-form striker, unfavoured by the angle and the close attentions of
his marker, could only pull his effort wide of goal with his left foot.
But the same combination bore fruit three minutes later to give the home team a 1-0 lead.
Woodward received a quick throw-in on the right, strode into the channel and produced a
deft pass across the face of goal for Stewart. He controlled the ball well and quickly prodded
it past Martin Conway in the Newport Pagnell goal and high into the net.
It wasn’t long before the visitors came close to an equaliser. With half an hour played, a neat
move led to a shot from just outside the box. It came back off the foot of the post, much to
Sphinx’s relief, and heralded the start of a decent spell for the home side.
In the 40th minute a brilliant pass from Noon on the right got Stewart into another promising
position. His excellent control kept the chance alive but Conway was equal to his snapshot
and made a fine save to keep the difference to a single goal.
A speculative hook from Bryson followed from a corner just before half time but Conway was
never troubled by it and 1-0 was the score at the break.
Sphinx started brightly in the second half as they looked to extend their lead. Shipman swept
a shot narrowly wide in the second minute of the half, and it was his team’s turn to seek an
advantage from the wind when another pinpoint long delivery from Cross found Stewart.
The forward went clear but also had to go wide before cutting back onto his left foot. Conway
made a cracking save to deny him, and Woodward’s attempt to cash in on the rebound was
thwarted by a defensive block that undoubtedly kept Newport Pagnell within a goal.
They certainly made the most of it and equalised in the 55th minute of the match. Guest was
nudged from behind as he tried to head clear from a high ball into the Sphinx box, and Jake
Watkinson controlled before poking it past Cross to make it 1-1.
The game drifted as the hour passed, with the teams more than willing to go toe to toe in a
testy affair that quickly became scrappy – but no less engaging – as a result. The wind that
whipped around the ground did neither any favours.
Sphinx soon picked up again, however, and it was their rally through the last quarter of the
match that earned them the full three points.
With twenty minutes remaining Thomas and Woodward’s men came close to regaining the
advantage. Callum Woodward angled a corner from the left beyond the back post, where
Bryson was on hand to strike goalwards. His partially blocked shot was saved well by
On the other side of a speculative shot from distance by the visitors, Sphinx made another
presentable chance in the 74th minute. Cross was again instrumental, his free kick delivery
met on this occasion by Shipman, who nodded it down superbly for his partner. The diving
header was just out of reach for Stewart and the score remained level until the 79th minute.
Woodward’s corner, this time from the right, was the source. He hung it up towards the back
post again and a dominant Draper towered above the goalmouth scrum to thump an
unstoppable header past the goalkeeper. Conway had no chance and Sphinx were back in
front with ten minutes to play.
A trio of substitutions followed. Luke Downes was joined in midfield by debutant Sufyan Zia,
who quickly and vocally made his presence felt in the middle of the park, and there was a
welcome return from injury for striker Harvey Smith.
There was one final chance for each team in the last couple of minutes. First, Cross had to
make sure his handling was on point to field a shot that was never likely to trouble him but
was low and possessed plenty of venom, and then Stewart curled a free kick over from 25
All that was left was for Sphinx to see out a tough shift through almost five minutes of
stoppage time, which they did with aplomb to claim a terrific win and three more points,
continuing a pleasing sequence of results late in the season.
Finding a run of winning form and digging out big results against quality opposition can be
difficult at the best of times, but to do it with only league placings to play for is the mark of a
team that have pride in themselves and want to squeeze every last drop out of a memorable
With half a dozen matches remaining there are still meaningful prizes up for grabs in that
regard. With every player giving everything in every match, there’s no question of Sphinx
being on the beach prematurely. Every point matters to these players and that’s the kind of
team anyone can get behind.
Cross, Draper, Martin, J. Downes, Guest, Bryson, Rawlings (Zia), Woodward, Shipman (H.
Smith), Stewart, Noon (L. Downes). Unused subs: J. Kennedy, Donkor