There’s nothing like being thrown in at the deep end. The postponement of Coventry
Sphinx’s opening MFL Premier Division match against Selston meant that the first two
matches of the season were the first two rounds of the FA Cup.
That’s a high-pressure situation already but there won’t be many teams anywhere in the
world this season who face and win penalty shoot-outs twice in their first two games. Sphinx
moved on to the First Qualifying Round with another 4-3 win from the spot after a goalless
draw, this time at home against Step Four side Coleshill Town.
The visitors started brightly in this Preliminary Round tie, forcing wing back Loz Rawlings
into evasive action at the back post inside the first minute. But by the time Rawlings had to
withdraw with a cut above his eye after ten minutes Sphinx were giving as good as they got.
Sphinx took the initiative and gave Coleshill goalkeeper Paul Hathaway some work to do in
the first half. He parried drives from distance by Danny Fraser and then Lewis Noon, and
had to be sharp to pluck an excellent Fraser free kick out of the top corner of his goal.
Strikers Mo Billy and Ashanti Pryce were lively, looking to get the Coleshill defenders turned
but unable to translate their threat into a genuine chance for a shot on goal.
The visitors also carried a threat, primarily through long throw-ins into the box, but it was
after the break that they created the best opportunities of the match.
Coleshill began the second half with determination and started to control the game. Four
minutes after the restart Sphinx goalkeeper Tom Cross made a tremendous point blank save
from a header as the away team sought the advantage.
But Sphinx are not easily controlled. For long periods of the second half it was an even
game. Pryce, in partnership with substitute Colin Smith, kept the Coleshill defence on their
toes by continuing the home team’s plan to get them running towards their own goal.
Cross faced two more close-range efforts, watching the first blasted over his crossbar before
standing strong to superbly repel the second.
With 13 minutes remaining it was Hathaway’s turn to keep his team level. Sphinx’s left wing
back, Fraser, had less of the ball in the second half than the first, but always looked capable
of making something happen. His clipped cross to the back post was met by Pryce, who
stretched to direct an accurate header towards goal. Hathaway was well placed to make the
Neither team came closer as the match moved towards a penalty shoot-out that seemed
likely even with ten minutes or more remaining of the 90.
The two defences had the better of the game, certainly, and Sphinx’s back three were busy
in the second half. On the left, James Bryson put in another very fine performance to keep
Coleshill’s right side at bay in tandem with Fraser.
There’s no extra time in these FA Cup rounds this season so the tie went to penalties at the
end of normal time, just as Sphinx’s Extra Preliminary Round win at Romulus had eleven
The shoot-out started the same way, too: Cross following up a towering performance by
saving the first spot kick from Danny Dubidat. But this was no smooth repeat. Sphinx
managers John Woodward and Shaun Thomas sent the same takers forward where
possible, which meant Fraser was up first. He was unfortunate to find Hathaway equal to his
Coleshill’s Kai Tonge and Sphinx’s Pryce then exchanged composed penalties to make it
1-1, before Cross saved again. Max Brogan’s effort was by no means easily saveable but
Cross read it and got across his goal brilliantly to keep it out.
Sphinx skipper Callum Woodward clipped in to make it 2-1, Hathaway scored his own kick,
and Noon stepped up in place of Rawlings to roll in his penalty and put all the pressure on
Josh Willis was their fifth taker and scored to make it 3-3 with just Sphinx’s fifth to go.
Midfielder Jack Downes had been next in line at Romulus in the last round and finally got his
moment. He took a moment to steady himself before calmly side-footing the winning penalty
into the corner of the net.
It’s been an extraordinary start to the season and we’ve already seen such character from
this Sphinx team. It’s unusual to have such little room for error so early, and to thrive under
those circumstances is very encouraging. The First Qualifying Round draw awaits.
Cross, Tufan, Fraser, Bryson, Rawlings (McConnachie), Woodward ©, Noon, Pryce,
Downes, Billy (Smith), Edwards. Unused subs: Draper, Billing, MJ, Tellyn, O’Connor