Coventry Sphinx’s third match of the 2020/21 Midland Football League Premier Division was
marred by an off-pitch incident involving a Worcester City supporter after the controversial
sending off of Sphinx goalkeeper Tom Cross.
Sphinx had to settle for a point from their first visit to Claines Lane, a facility more in keeping
with Worcester’s status as a Step 5 club than their recent tenancy at Bromsgrove Sporting.
Crucially it’s also in Worcester, and exiled clubs who are able to return home should be
The visitors took the lead from a set piece in the first half but had to battle hard to take
something from the game when a flashpoint with twenty minutes remaining left them with ten
men, and with an outfield player in goal after Cross was dismissed.
For the first quarter of an hour the game Worcester enjoyed the majority of the possession
but were unable to find a breakthrough until a twelfth minute free kick was played back
across the Sphinx goal for an inviting chance that went begging. A minute later a shot from
the hosts went comfortably wide as a short spell of pressure came to nothing.
Sphinx showed in the early part of the match that they would be dangerous on the
counter-attack but their first chance of note was more agricultural. A long free kick from
Cross swung into the heart of the penalty area, where striker Mo Billy was able to win the
header but not guide it towards goal.
The visitors then got the ball down and passed their way into the match, and the rest of the
first half was played out on a more even footing. Worcester, perhaps wary of Sphinx’s threat
on the break, conceded ten yards as Sphinx gained a hold.
Their reward arrived with a little under half an hour played. Having been awarded a free kick
just inside the Worcester half, Sphinx loaded the penalty area and it paid off. Skipper Callum
Woodward delivered a fantastic ball and defender James Bryson cleverly glanced a header
into the bottom corner beyond Worcester goalkeeper Ewan Mountjoy.
Worcester responded with a shot just wide in the 37th minute but the Sphinx lead held until
the break. The first half was a typical away performance. Worcester had most of the ball but
Sphinx evened out the game by giving them plenty to think about in defence as well. More
importantly, they also took their only real chance of the half.
The home side were unsurprisingly fired up after half time and were more incisive in the
early minutes of the second half. Three minutes in, the ball bounced around the Sphinx box
and was eventually teed up for a shot from the edge. Cross produced a terrific diving save to
keep his team in front.
A few minutes later a Worcester corner resulted in a shot being poked just over the angle,
and with 55 minutes played it was clear that Sphinx would have to stand firm against a home
team in the ascendancy and work hard up front to try and pinch a second goal. An injury to Billy made that a trickier task but fresh legs in the form of substitute Colin Smith kept the
Sphinx’s best attack of the half came in the 59th minute and Lewis Noon was its
mastermind. The midfielder embarked on a determined solo charge into the Worcester box,
beating a few defenders before shooting over the crossbar.
A speculative Worcester shot from distance followed a similar trajectory a couple of minutes
later but they didn’t have to wait much longer for the equaliser.
It was remarkably similar to Sphinx’s goal: a free kick from deep was glanced on and found
the corner. Unfortunately, it was a Sphinx head again on this occasion -- Patsun Tufan was
the unlucky scorer of the own goal.
But the match will be remembered only for the ugly scenes that spoiled the evening. The
fullness of the consequences isn’t known at the time of writing but Cross was sent off for his
alleged part in a clash after a tackle by Tufan elicited an angry response from the home
team. Investigations will continue into the aftermath.
With Sphinx down to ten men and goalkeeper Jude O’Connor not on the bench on this
occasion, goalscorer Bryson was the man tasked with going in goal for the last 15 minutes
and stoppage time.
He had a few pieces of basic handling to contend with but no significant shot to save.
Worcester’s last real chance was a pass across the box that didn’t get a proper contact from
the player in the middle and eased wide of the post.
This Sphinx team has guts. Whatever the game, whoever the opponents, they give
everything they have. A point might seem scant cause for celebration but in the
circumstances it was a deserved prize for refusing to roll over, outnumbered or not, on and
off the pitch.
Cross, Tufan, Fraser, Downes, Kay, Bryson, Rawlings, Woodward ©, Billy (Smith), Noon,
Pryce (Guest). Unused subs: Edwards, Hammond, MJ