An improved crowd of 110 gathered to watch Coventry Sphinx have their good home record tested by one of the form teams in the Midland Football League Premier Division. It was a blustery but dry day at Sphinx Drive as the two teams took to the field. Sphinx manager Luke Hopkins made just the one change as Ricky Fletcher replaced Ash Wilks at centre back. He also had a full substitutes bench with the experience of Ash Wilks and Ash Jackson alongside the youth of Jacob Dodds, Kyle Jaynes and Jack Downes.
Sphinx started the game well with a high tempo to their play and Ash Cain was looking particularly dangerous. As early as the 9th minute Sphinx had a big penalty shout as Downie went tumbling in the box but the referee waved away the protests. The bright start was soon rewarded in the 12th minute as Jamie Newton claimed his first goal for the club. Some fine wing play from Cain saw him deliver a superb cross from the right and NEWTON buried it from close range to give Sphinx the ideal start. Sphinx were playing well as the visitors were struggling to get their game going. Walsall Wood have been in great form so I was fully expecting them to get into their stride at some point. The next moment of note for Sphinx came from some excellent work down the right from Evangelinos who in turn fed Cain who himself made it to the by-line before cutting back to the incoming Newton. This time the cross was cut out by a defender as the same combination looked to double Sphinx’s lead. Minutes later Jackson Downie hit the bar after some good play released him in the box and Sphinx were looking decent value for their one goal lead. Walsall Wood were threatening to score themselves and O’Neill had to make two saves in a minute to preserve the lead for the hosts. The first save denied the Wood from close range and the cleared ball was driven back with interest to force O’Neill into a fine save. As Walsall Wood looked for a leveller Sphinx were breaking on them and one break lead to Evangelinos being brought down wide on the left. The resulting free kick was delivered by Cain and a glancing header from Baxter went just wide of the far post. Another rapid break saw Downes find Downie in the box and his effort was saved by Faultless in the visitors goal. Just before half time and Downie was the provider this time as he set up Evangelinos for a well hit shot that was again kept out by the keeper. We went into half time with Sphinx having done enough to earn themselves a 1-0 lead.
HALF TIME: COVENTRY SPHINX 1 WALSALL WOOD 0
It wasn’t long before Walsall Wood had levelled the scores as they put away a penalty just three minutes after the re-start. A straightforward ball through the centre of defence resulted in Fletcher shoving the striker over in the box to concede one of the clearest penalty decisions you are likely to see. Butlin stepped up to strike the spot kick, O’Neill got to it and for a moment I thought he had kept it out but the ball ended up nestling in the net to make it 1-1 early in the second half. The game was there for either side to win now and on the hour mark O’Neill was called into action as he stretched to keep out a shot that was heading inside the foot of the post. Sphinx responded with Downie through on goal but the keeper reacted well to keep out his effort. Sphinx went on to have a good spell with Cain seeing plenty of the ball as he found space on the flanks. Downes had a chance as Downie was the provider again but Sphinx couldn’t find the winner they were looking for. Wilks joined the action up front and some excellent play between him and Cain saw Wilks’ firm drive saved by the Wood keeper. Walsall Wood were looking for the three points themselves and O’Neill was sweeping up behind his defence effectively to snuff out Wood’s attempts to win it. The game was almost over when Walsall Wood snatched it at the death thanks to a gift from Coventry Sphinx. A high ball was sent forward by the visitors and Sphinx keeper O’Neill called for his defender to leave it which he indeed did but O’Neill had misjudged the flight of the ball and he was forced to head the ball clear. The header had no power and it was collected by the grateful Hayles who went on to slide the ball into an empty net. A heart breaking way to lose a game and with the goal coming in the 89th minute Sphinx had no time to recover from the mistake. Generally Sphinx had played well but the combination of failing to take their chances and defensive errors saw them slip to just their second home league defeat of the season.
FULL TIME: COVENTRY SPHINX 1 WALSALL WOOD 2
MAN OF THE MATCH: Matt Taylor
Two stand out players for me today of which the first is Jackson Downie. Jackson was heavily involved in a lot of Sphinx’s attacking play and he had a fine game. The other is Matt Taylor and he is my Man of the Match. Matt reads the game well from his position at centre back and is equally comfortable in the air or on the floor. The way he stepped out of defence with the ball at his feet to instigate attacking play was exceptional and he is displaying a real consistency to his game as well.
COVENTRY SPHINX TEAM: O’NEILL, ROONEY, DAINTY, BAXTER (Wilks 73 mins), FLETCHER, TAYLOR, NEWTON, DOWNIE, EVANGELINOS (Dodds 90 mins), L.DOWNES, CAIN
Next Coventry Sphinx Fixture
Saturday 17th January 3pm Away LOUGHBOROUGH UNIVERSITY
#UTS #UPTHESPHINX #12THMAN