I set off for Solihull on a mild spring evening expecting a tough game against a Highgate side who have spent the whole season around the top of the Midland Alliance table. I would have been happy with a point before the game to be honest but I knew that if Sphinx played to their full capabilities then anything was possible. On arrival at the ground we had a very friendly welcome from the turnstile operator and catering staff and we made our way to the stand that runs the length of the pitch. The Sphinx team were still warming up when we got there and then the Sphinx manager called his players together for a pre match pep talk. It didn’t last long but long enough for me to see that the lads were well up for this game.
I was hoping for a good solid start but I got much better than that. Sphinx came flying out the blocks and took the game to their hosts. Sphinx lined up with their usual four at the back but a tactical change saw Jackson, Baxter and Bilic in midfield, Downie and Dainty in the wide midfield positions and Luke Downes up front on his own. The one forward was rapidly supported by the midfield and this resulted in Sphinx being the better side in the early stages with Jackson Downie shooting over the bar in the 13th minute. Downie was causing Highgate real problems from his wide right position and all Highgate had in response to his strong running and close ball control were fouls. Half an hour gone and Sphinx clearly had the upper hand. A good counter attack resulted in Luke Downes getting a shot away and he was working tremendously hard for the team in his role up front. Shortly afterwards, Sphinx were awarded a corner and after an excellent delivery, defensive midfielder Ash Jackson was the first to meet it but put his header over the bar. Half time was approaching and Sphinx still hadn’t got the goal their play deserved. Jackson forced the keeper into another save. Highgate broke up the other end and a rare chance for them saw an attempted lob of the Sphinx keeper Carl O’Neill go sailing over the bar. With just a minute of the half remaining, Sphinx pressed forward and a great chance rolled just wide of the post. From the resulting corner, Highgate were unable to clear their lines while under severe pressure. The ball was delivered back into the box across the face of goal and BILIC was at the back post to smash the ball home from close range. Sphinx at last got the goal their performance had so richly deserved and that was to be the last action of the half. HALF TIME: Highgate United 0 Coventry Sphinx 1
The second half kicks off and the key for Sphinx will be now to prove they can perform for 90 minutes. The early passages of play were looking promising and ten minutes into the half Sphinx won another corner. Another excellent delivery from Baxter came in and once again it was JACKSON who was the man to get there but this time he powered his header into the net to put Sphinx 2-0 up. A fair reflection of the game. The quality of the Sphinx performance so far was impressive and it was a pleasure to watch. Shortly after the second goal, Dainty shot over the bar and his work for the team up and down the flank had been excellent. Highgate were starting to let their frustration get the better of them and a bad tackle was punished with a yellow card. Once again Bilic was flattened and the way he was playing it seemed that was the only way to stop him this evening. On the 70 minute mark, Highgate were awarded a penalty for a foul which was comfortably dispatched to bring the score back to 2-1. Sphinx had been the dominant team over the course of the match so it was important they responded in the right way to secure the points. Striker Rickie Cutting joined the fray for the injured Ash Jackson who had put in a quite brilliant captain’s display. Almost immediately after the goal Downes shot over the bar and just minutes later Sphinx got another corner. The delivery was spot on again and this time it was the centre back WILKES who was first to the cross to head the ball home. 3-1 Sphinx with 15 minutes to go. Surely game over now. With a two goal lead it wouldn’t be a surprise to see a team defend the lead but that’s not how Sphinx play. They just got better if that was possible and could have scored more. One passage of play wouldn’t have looked out of place at a far higher level and almost resulted in another goal. Sphinx continued to look for more goals but they would have to settle for the three as they secured what turned out to be a comfortable victory. A 3-1 victory away to a high flying Highgate is impressive in itself but the performance was one of the best I’ve seen from Sphinx all season. Every single player had the lot, work rate, spirit, desire and quality. The team are clearly well organised as well and credit has to go the management for that. In my last match report I wrote about if Sphinx could improve their away form then next season could be a memorable one… well that’s not a bad start is it!
Man of the Match: After a team performance like that I have no idea where to start. I could easily make a case for any one of the players. Fletcher and Wilkes were dominant at centre back, Downie was superb in his wide midfield position, Downes was tireless in his work up front and the midfield three of Baxter, Jackson and Bilic were excellent. My “Man of the Match” goes to BILIC who put in the complete midfield performance. He worked tremendously hard both defensively and offensively and epitomised what Sphinx were about tonight. He showed real quality on the ball and scored the important first goal too.
COVENTRY SPHINX TEAM: 1. O’NEILL 2. DAINTY 3. HILL 4. FLETCHER 5. DYKE 6. JACKSON 7. BILIC 8. BAXTER 9. WILKES 10. DOWNIE 11. DOWNES Substitutes: CUTTING (on for Jackson 70 mins), FOWLER (on for Hill 85 mins)
FORTHCOMING COVENTRY SPHINX FIXTURES:
TIVIDALE Saturday April 5th 3.00pm Away
AFC WULFRUNIANS Monday April 7th 7.45pm Home