An away trip to Staffordshire for Coventry Sphinx on Saturday and they returned home with three hard won points after an entertaining game ended with a thrilling winner in the 93rd minute. Sphinx were fortunate to take the lead in the first half but a controversial penalty levelled things up in the second half. Sphinx were then denied a penalty of their own which turned out to be the trigger for them to drive on and win the game although they had to wait until the 93rd minute to claim the winning goal.
The team had a very familiar look to it with Scott Dutton in goal protected by an experienced back line. The midfield was led by Callum Woodward and up front Ryan Harkin continued his new partnership with Chris Sterling. Heavy downpours before kick off gave us an untypical summers afternoon and we got underway with Rocester the first to get a glimpse of goal. As early as the third minute Rocester should have scored when a Rocester player contrived to side foot an effort wide at the back post when he was unmarked and had the goal at his mercy. Sphinx responded immediately with a Downes turn and shot well blocked by the Rocester defence. Lower and Harkin then combined for Sphinx and Harkin’s first time cross was heading for Sterling before the intervention of a Rocester head. Harkin was soon the provider again and this time Tomkinson was the beneficiary on the left but his shot was deflected wide for a corner. Sphinx were being worked hard at the back though and Dutton came out a long way to punch clear but it fell to a Rocester player who smartly lifted it back over him for Rocester to slide it into the empty net. Relief for Sphinx all round though as the linesman had his flag up for offside therefore the goal was disallowed. Rocester were protecting their young keeper superbly and were having more of the game but Sphinx stuck at it and got a slice of luck just before half time to take the lead. WOODWARD took a short corner, received it back and sent in a high cross, deep to the far post. It looked too long but the strong breeze held it up and the keeper couldn’t stop it dropping into the top corner of the goal. A 40th minute lead for Sphinx and they came close to doubling it with Rocester keeper Charlie Wood saving a Harkin effort just before the break. On the balance of play, Rocester didn’t deserve to be behind but they were to get their own slice of luck in the second half.
HALF TIME: ROCESTER 0 COVENTRY SPHINX 1
Despite the one goal advantage, Sphinx knew they would need to step things up to secure the victory in the second half. Sphinx were still creating chances but they were now starting to work the keeper. Some rugged play from Cairns sent Harkin through on goal and a really good save from Wood kept the score at 1-0. Harkin was soon released again down the left after a good tackle from Tomkinson regained possession and Harkin went on to produce a clever pass to send Sterling away. The keeper was up to the job again and saved well with his legs. Rocester themselves were still well in the game and on 64 minutes they were given a glorious chance to equalise. A powerful shot was driven at the Sphinx goal and Woodward threw himself in the way to block with his chest. Unbelievably for the Sphinx players, a penalty was awarded after some hopeful handball appeals from Rocester. Sphinx were furious and Woodward was eager to show everyone the impact mark on his chest as he protested his innocence. The penalty award stood and Scott Dutton, not for the first time, came up with a marvellous save to keep the spot kick out but Rocester were quickest to react with Oliver Roome getting there first to tuck in the rebound and level things up. Sphinx still hadn’t forgotten their sense of injustice when a similar situation occurred in the Rocester box. A shot was blocked again and big shouts of handball went up from Sphinx but this time they were waved away by the under pressure referee. There were just 15 minutes to go now but suddenly Sphinx found another gear and went on to dominate the remainder of the game. Their tails were really up now as they fancied their chances of winning this. Sphinx were playing some good stuff as they looked for the winner but Rocester were hanging on at the back. The screw was turning from the away side and a Harkin shot hammered the cross bar after some great work from Sterling created the chance. A minute to go now and Sterling had a shot on goal that was collected comfortably and then a clearance up field almost gave Rocester a late winner until the intervention of Scott Dutton who saved superbly against a Rocester striker who was left one on one with him. Sphinx may have had thoughts of settling for a point but Cairns drove them forward again for one last effort. The ball was delivered into the Rocester box again and eventually the loose ball came to the feet of Matty BURT who retained his composure and steered it into the net! Understandable delirium from the Sphinx bench ensued but they still had to see out a final minute of play. The Sphinx bench urged Ryan Harkin to dig in as he pressed the home defence and that was enough to see Sphinx home with the three points.
A thrilling finish to the game and Sphinx got better as the game went on so there was nothing wrong with their fitness. A fortunate opening goal for Sphinx cancelled out by a fortunate equaliser and ultimately a stoppage time winner after being denied a penalty and Harkin thumping the bar. Sphinx needed those points, however they came and the mood amongst the players post match showed how important they were to the players. Next up is a home match against Bromsgrove Sporting on Saturday 26th August.
FULL TIME: ROCESTER 1 COVENTRY SPHINX 2
COVENTRY SPHINX MAN OF THE MATCH: CALLUM WOODWARD
Sphinx once again looked solid at the back and Scott Dutton made two great saves at crucial times. Aaron Stringfellow at left back was the standout defender for me and his experience and decision making was second to none. Liam Cairns never lets you down and put in the hard work in midfield areas. Tomkinson is really settling into the team and his attacking play on the left was good. Sterling is another newcomer and his work up front alongside the bright Ryan Harkin gave Sphinx a threat. Midfielder Callum Woodward gets my Man of the Match after a performance that was full of his usual attributes.
COVENTRY SPHINX TEAM: DUTTON, LOWER, STRINGFELLOW, CAIRNS, BURT, QUIRKE, DOWNES (Mullarkey 76 mins), WOODWARD, STERLING (Dakouri 93 mins), HARKIN, TOMKINSON. Unused sub: Guest