With Coventry Sphinx having played their final game of 2014 on Boxing Day (a superb 4-0 win at Alvechurch), now seems as good a time as any to review the season so far. We came into the season with great optimism having retained the majority of the squad and just as importantly retained the management team as well. Sphinx started the season with a draw and a convincing win but injury woes would strike rapidly with the loss of striker Luke Williams to long term injury the first to impact on the team. Key players such as winger Ash Cain and experienced goalkeeper Carl O’Neill would also end up missing significant amounts of games and added to that was the early departure of last seasons Young Player of the Season, Ricky Fletcher, to neighbours Bedworth Utd. Last seasons top scorer Rickie Cutting also appeared to be struggling for form. All of these issues combined to provide a stern test to the manager Luke Hopkins as he needed to replace key players quickly and effectively. Hopkins is a young manager himself and lesser men would have struggled to find solutions but he was decisive in getting in the players he needed. The biggest headache was finding a replacement for keeper O’Neill (broken finger) as he used 3 different keepers before he pulled off the signing of young Wolverhampton Wanderers keeper Scott Dutton. Scott filled in admirably until O’Neill returned and we were grateful for Wolves assistance in loaning out a promising young keeper.
The high turnover of players in the early months of the season led to the inevitable inconsistency that you would expect. FA Cup progress was halted by higher level opposition and local rivals Bedworth Utd. Sphinx played with great determination and took Bedworth to a replay and extra time before they finally succumbed. The FA Vase saw a disappointing early exit to lower level opposition Studley and this left the main focus on the league. Manager Luke Hopkins took the brave decision of planning for the long term future by introducing a possession and passing style of football as well as introducing players from the successful Youth set up at the club. To do this mid season was a courageous move but it’s a move that has already reaped it’s rewards. The new football philosophy took time to bed in and the Youth players were generally taking to first team football well. Things were looking positive and the management decisions have certainly been vindicated with the progress the team has shown already. Things were starting to fall in place as Ricky Fletcher had made a welcome return from Bedworth Utd and the Youth players were stepping up to the plate when called upon. The squad was developing into a younger and smaller unit as a number of players moved on to pastures new. The more experienced strikers, Chris Gumery and Rickie Cutting, moved to Boldmere St Michaels and Coleshill Town respectively. Defender Jamie Coleman also moved on to Coventry United. Another experienced loss was club captain Ash Jackson who suffered a long term knee injury. Despite this, there was a steady improvement in the teams performances as they appeared to be thriving on the opportunity to express themselves.
A key player in the recent good form of Coventry Sphinx has been attacking midfielder Jackson Downie rediscovering his form of last season when he broke into the team from the Youth set up. Jackson was not in the best of form at the start of the season and went out on loan to Heather St Johns. He returned reinvigorated and has steadily become the player we knew he could be. Teenage midfielder Luke Downes has arguably been the most consistent performer this season. Luke has hardly missed a game and his record of 14 goals from midfield is impressive. Another midfielder, Jamie Newton, recently signed from Hinckley AFC, has slotted into the side well and is improving all the time. In defence, Jack Rooney, a Youth player who forced his way into the side at the start of the season, has been virtually an ever present and appears to have found his ideal position at Right Back. Gio Dainty, normally deployed at left midfield, has dropped back to Left Back to cover in that position and looks more than comfortable there. The style of play employed by Luke Hopkins allows the full backs to get forward at every opportunity and they appear to be thriving on it. Matt Taylor, who started the season competing for the Right Back position, has made the Centre Back position his own after an inspired substitution at Wulfrunians in November. Taylor came on that day to fill in at Centre Back and has not looked back since. Cain has recently returned from an injury lay off and has added experience, pace and flair to the team. I’d like to mention a couple of unsung players who often go un-noticed. Kyle Baxter is a defensive midfielder who does the unglamorous work for the side and deserves recognition for going about his work well. Also, Ash Wilks is one of the experienced members of the side and whether he is plays at Centre Back or Centre Forward, you can expect a committed performance.
A significant feature to this season has been the introduction of multiple Youth Team players to the First Team set up. 5 players have made the step up and they have made a total of 71 First Team appearances while still turning out for the Youth Team. Jack Rooney has fully established himself in defence. The pacey Jacob Dodds has made regular appearances as a winger/striker and has chipped in with a couple of goals. Jack Downes (16 year old brother of Luke) is a midfielder with great potential and has looked comfortable in First Team football. 16 year old striker Kyle Jaynes is also showing great promise and has also scored a couple of goals.
The team has taken on a much more settled appearance recently as the squad has taken shape and it can be no coincidence that the team are currently on a 5 match unbeaten run in the league. There is a good balance between young and experienced players but the only issue could be strength in depth which I’m sure will be addressed if the Manager deems it necessary. The team are scoring freely and the away form is improving too so there are plenty of reasons for optimism as we go into the new year. The players deserve enormous credit but do not under-estimate the influence of the management and coaching staff. Manager Luke Hopkins and his assistant Stuart Dutton are getting performances out of these players by setting them up well and providing an environment for them to express themselves and enjoy their football. The contribution of Lynton Wilkinson and Stuart Fraser should be praised too, particularly for their work with the Youth Team.
An interesting season so far and plenty to look forward to as we see this improving and entertaining team develop and progress. I can only suggest that you come along and see for yourself. These lads appreciate all the support they get and represent the City of Coventry and Coventry Sphinx Football Club with pride.