Sphinx came into this game unbeaten in their last three league games and having suffered only one league defeat at home all season. Long Eaton arrived as the Midland Football League Premier Division leaders, in good form and with only one league defeat on the road all season. Clearly a massive test of Sphinx’s young and improving squad but they have already proven this season they can give anyone a game at Sphinx Drive. A perfect winter’s day for football saw Sphinx manager Luke Hopkins make just one change with the return of the influential Ashley Cain. The settled look to the team recently is an indication of the improving form of the team and if we played with the right tempo and quality we were going to give the visitors a match.
The first chance of the match came to Coventry Sphinx in the 2nd minute as Sphinx pinned Long Eaton in their own box and eventually Wilks got away an effort that was tipped around the post by Hassan in the visitors goal. Long Eaton soon got a foothold in the game and they had the edge in terms of territory and possession but the Sphinx keeper was rarely tested. Long Eaton were wasteful when in decent areas but Sphinx were defending well in general and when they did have the opportunity to attack they looked a threat themselves. Sphinx’s closest effort came from a Jack Rooney break forward midway through the half. He swept in a cross that had the keeper scrambling backwards to push it over the bar. Sphinx had weathered the early Long Eaton efforts and were getting onto the front foot more and more. On the half hour a great cross from Gio Dainty, who was getting forward well from left back, picked out Jackson Downie and his accurate looping header was tipped over the bar. Just a minute later the deadlock was broken as Sphinx took the lead with a well worked goal. Some great wing play from Cain down the right saw him pass inside to Downie who turned inside the defender to shift the ball across to WILKS who saw his first shot blocked by the keeper but he promptly followed up to poke in the rebound. Some excellent play from Cain and Downie to provide the goal for Wilks who is settling back into his role as a centre forward well after a long spell playing at centre back. Downie was being a real nuisance to the Long Eaton defence and it was his efforts that led to the next Sphinx goal. Downie forced a mistake from Long Eaton in their own box to regain possession for Sphinx, the ball went out wide to Cain who fired in a superb cross across the face of goal. The ball came out to the lurking Luke DOWNES who finished high into the net to double the Sphinx lead in the 38th minute. The 14th goal of the season for midfielder Downes which is an impressive tally. Sphinx held on to their lead to take us into half time with a healthy 2-0 lead. Long Eaton are top of the table for good reason though so this game was far from over.
HALF TIME: COVENTRY SPHINX 2 LONG EATON UTD 0
Long Eaton came out looking eager to respond and they soon got a shot on target that was comfortably collected by Carl O’Neill in the Sphinx goal. We then had a short spell of pressure from Long Eaton that Sphinx defended well but Long Eaton eventually got the goal they had been threatening to get when Sphinx keeper O’Neill brought down the attacker to concede a penalty. The penalty was put away by Armstrong to reduce the deficit to one goal. Coventry Sphinx 2 Long Eaton 1 after 62 minutes and most definitely game on. Before Sphinx had the chance to respond they found themselves picking the ball out of their own net again. Substitute Jermain Palmer, who had only been on the pitch for 4 minutes, was played through and he beat O’Neill to the ball to guide it home. 2 goals in 2 minutes for the league leaders to level the scores at 2-2 and the momentum was now with the visitors. Sphinx manager Hopkins responded by sending on the pacey forward Jacob Dodds and fellow Youth team striker Kyle Jaynes joined the play as Sphinx went looking for all three points. A brave and positive move from the Sphinx manager but it was Long Eaton who got what appeared to be the winning goal in the 83rd minute. Jermain Palmer again beat the offside trap down the right and slid the ball past the keeper to give Long Eaton the lead for the first time in the match. A blow for Sphinx after being in a winning position and lesser teams would have let their heads drop and accepted the defeat. Sphinx were having none of that and attacked with renewed vigour to get back into the game. It took them just two minutes to find the equaliser as the team surged forward pressing for the goal. Good play resulted in DOWNIE collecting the ball near the corner of the penalty box and he cut inside to drive a powerful shot into the bottom corner to level the scores at 3-3! The home support were still celebrating as Sphinx piled forward looking for the winner. Jacob Dodds received the ball wide on the right and started running at the Long Eaton defence. He was eventually stopped when he was brought down for a clear penalty just inside the box. 2 minutes to go and a glorious chance to win the game from the penalty spot. The Long Eaton defence did their best to delay the spot kick and Luke Downes stepped up to place his kick low to the keepers right but the keeper had guessed the right way and kept the ball out to gain a point for the visitors. A dramatic end to an absorbing contest that was a great advert for Midland Football League football. In all honesty, I have seen Sphinx play better but to come so close to beating the league leaders while not at their very best speaks volumes for the progress Sphinx have made during this season.
FULL TIME: COVENTRY SPHINX 3 LONG EATON UTD 3
MAN OF THE MATCH: Jackson Downie
Some good performances worth noting today included Gio Dainty at left back. Dainty has been a fixture in the side all season and he had a particularly good game today. Usually deployed at left midfield, he has recently moved to left back and this has certainly not curtailed his attacking play. Ash Wilks gave us a physical presence up front and after spending so long playing at centre back he is adjusting well to his return to the forward line. Ashley Cain gave us some pace and trickery in forward areas and he contributed well to the team. My choice today is Jackson Downie who was heavily involved in the first two goals and scored the third himself with a good strike. Downie thrived on his role that saw him play further forward than usual and showed quality and work rate in abundance.
COVENTRY SPHINX TEAM: O’NEILL, ROONEY, DAINTY (Jaynes 82 mins), BAXTER, FLETCHER, TAYLOR, NEWTON (DODDS 69 mins), DOWNIE, WILKS, L.DOWNES, CAIN
Next Coventry Sphinx fixture – Away ALVECHURCH Friday 26th December (Boxing Day) 12 noon kick off
#UTS #UPTHESPHINX #12THMAN