In the next-but-one game after Coventry Sphinx eliminated Coventry United from the
Buildbase FA Vase, the teams' fortunes were reversed in the Uhlsport United Counties
League Premier Division South.
Meeting between Christmas and New Year once again, Sphinx and their opposition went at it
at Butts Park Arena. United emerged victorious thanks to a late goal in a tight match
contested in a competitive but sporting spirit.
Sphinx joint managers John Woodward and Shaun Thomas made just one change from the
starting line-up that handsomely beat GNG Oadby Town in the last fixture before Christmas,
with Luke Downes replacing Leo Stone.
Stone started on the bench along with Louis Guest on his return from suspension. Jack
Downes continued to deputise at centre back alongside Jamie Draper and James Bryson,
before reclaiming his midfield place in the second half.
It wasn’t an especially pretty affair and the tone was set in the first few minutes. The home
side made a strong start and Sphinx’s Tom Cross had to make the first save with five
minutes played, holding on easily after a poor connection took the edge off a shot after a
free kick had been partially cleared.
Two minutes later a long kick from Cross released Callum Stewart in behind the United
defence. He was off-balance when he got his shot away but Reece Francis had to be sharp
to make a low save with his right foot. Stewart’s ability to go past the home defence was a
feature of the first half but Sphinx couldn’t make it pay off.
Loz Rawlings was next to get a good look at goal with nine minutes gone. Lewis Chester’s
corner picked him out beyond United’s near post but the wing back wasn’t able to apply a
thin enough connection to glance it goalward.
By the middle of the half Sphinx were giving away free kicks more often than they’d like.
Cross had to make another save from a set play in the 18th minute, before a superb piece of
control and an equally impressive turn set Harvey Smith free at the other end. His left-footed
shot went over the crossbar.
Sphinx had played themselves into the ascendancy and had a decent period of pressure. A
couple of dangerous crosses came to nothing in the 20th minute, and the first half then
evened itself out and became something of a battle without much action at either end. United
applied pressure from free kicks and corners, while Sphinx worked to get their defence
Neither had much joy but there were a few presentable chances before half time. Lewis
Noon spread the ball right for Chester on the half-hour and a sliding Stewart was agonisingly
close to knocking home his low shot across the face of Francis.
Stewart then flicked a clever pass around the corner for Smith and Francis had to save again
with his feet, before Stewart nodded a header just wide when in behind again but under
pressure on the stroke of half time.
In the meantime, Cross held a drive from Curvin Ellis at the other end and United continued
to carry a threat and enjoy much of the possession as the end of the half approached. They
had more of the ball, Sphinx had more of the chances – neither had a breakthrough.
Woodward and Thomas made a change at the break, bringing Guest on at centre back and
pushing Jack Downes back into midfield. He replaced Harvey Billing, who was on a yellow
card after committing a foul to prevent a quick breakaway from the home side in the 22nd
Three minutes into the second period, Sphinx were on the front foot. Chester went in behind
in the right channel but could only drag his shot wide of the United goal, and Smith soon
went close again after great work by both himself and Smith to create the opening on the
United took the lead in the 56th minute, inevitably from a set piece. Their delivery was a
concern for Sphinx throughout the match and it finally told when Liam Cairns fired a
close-range header into the roof of the net.
Sphinx wasted no time in putting right the setback and were level within three minutes.
Having scored the winner in the Vase tie between these two teams earlier in the month,
Smith was on target again.
After a Luke Downes free kick, determined play on the edge of the box by his brother, Jack,
sent Stewart clear of the United defence with only Francis and a tight angle to beat. Instead,
he elected to tee Smith up for a tap-in.
Throughout the middle of the second half the game was evenly matched again, with both
teams playing direct. But with a little over ten minutes remaining, the visitors went in search
of their moment. Stewart and Smith had shots saved, Rawlings blocked, within the space of
a few seconds at the culmination of a good spell for Sphinx.
But their chances had been and gone, and United had one more to come. A defensive
mistake and a difficult bouncing ball presented the opportunity to Kyle Carey, who calmly
netted the winning goal with just two minutes left to play. The away team were unable to
strike back as United kept them at arm’s length through stoppage time.
Despite the nature and timing of the winning goal, the Sphinx players came away from this
loss with their heads held high. They put in maximum effort, as they always do, and felt they
created enough chances to win.
Taking those chances is paramount, and limiting the opposition to fewer attacking dead balls
is also a must. Although the corner for the opener wasn't as cheap as the free kicks
conceded by Sphinx in the first half, those spells of pressure cost Sphinx dear in the end.
Sphinx's next fixture pits them against another local opponent on the New Year Bank
Holiday. Rugby Town will visit Sphinx Drive to take on a team eager to bounce back and
build up a head of steam as the Fourth Round of the FA Vase approaches.
Cross, J. Downes, Rawlings, Noon, Draper, Bryson, Chester, Billing (Guest), Smith, Stewart,
L. Downes (Stone). Unused subs: Hallett, Kennedy, Selley-Haywood