The MFL League Cup got underway on Tuesday night and Coventry Sphinx boss Luke Hopkins would be looking for a significant reaction from his players after the weekend’s league defeat at Lye Town. Hopkins had moved swiftly to address the problems he identified at the weekend by drafting in three new signings to his squad. All three new players arrived with an amount of pedigree and on paper they looked to be highly encouraging additions to a squad already full of talent. First through the door was striker Charles Wilson who joined from Tividale. Wilson is 22 years old and was at Birmingham City at academy level and has gone on to play for a number of clubs at a good level. Also joining is 20 year old forward Lewis Rankin, a man familiar to quite a few of the Sphinx squad because he played with them at Rugby Town last season. Rankin did very well at Rugby Town following his release from Coventry City and his signature is a real coup for Coventry Sphinx. Finally a young talent called Kyle Barnett signed and the 18 year old defender is another who played academy football at Coventry City. The Sphinx squad is developing into a young and ambitious group who are mainly local lads. This is giving us a real identity and certainly something the supporters can relate to.
Tonight’s team saw five changes to the starting line up with all three new signings making their debuts. Barnett was selected at centre back and Wilson and Rankin formed the strike partnership. Also coming in were winger Lewis McBride who made a welcome return after being unavailable on Saturday and experienced left back Ashley Jackson who replaced youngster Jacob Dodds. In the pre match warm up Sphinx manager Luke Hopkins and his squad looked in a relaxed but focused mood and this transferred into the match as Sphinx made a very lively start. The tempo was good and the passing was sharp as they looked to stamp their authority on the game from the first minute. The full backs were getting forward at every opportunity and it was right back Jackson Downie who was the source of the opening goal on 12 minutes. Downie can carry the ball superbly and his strong run saw him surge into the penalty area where he was promptly brought down. Up stepped Ashley JACKSON to send the keeper the wrong way and put Sphinx 1-0 up. A good start for Sphinx but they were caught napping just two minutes later when Bloore took full advantage to hit an accurate drive across Sphinx keeper Carl O’Neill. The equaliser didn’t effect the Sphinx attacking play as they continued to probe the Atherstone defence and ask them serious questions. Rankin was on fire on his debut and it was his low cross that Lewis McBride was inches away from putting in at the far post. We were now half an hour into the game and the improvement in Sphinx from the weekend was huge. The pace of their play was superb and Blythe was pulling the strings in midfield as he looked to release the pacey front four. Sphinx were playing some great stuff and it was a joy to watch. Atherstone were still threatening themselves when they got themselves forward and a break from them saw Turner scuff his shot wide when well placed. Sphinx were still looking the better side and the next chance saw Thomson shoot just over the bar from long range after good play between him and Downie. Atherstone were doing well to contain a Sphinx side who looked well in the mood for this match tonight. Wilson was having a fine game up front on his debut and his desire and work-rate were once again rewarded when he regained possession near the corner flag and instantly fed McBride who hit a fierce drive that was well saved at the foot of the post by the Atherstone keeper. That was the last serious action of the half and it was entertaining stuff. Sphinx would have been happy with their performance but the scores were level as we went into the break despite Sphinx doing more than enough to justify the lead.
HALF TIME: ATHERSTONE TOWN 1 COVENTRY SPHINX 1
Sphinx were straight onto the front foot again and they soon had a corner as they pressed for the goal to put them in the lead. The deep corner was met by Jackson Downie who cut inside the defender to hit a peach of a left footer towards the top corner that was superbly tipped over the bar. The next Sphinx chance was again from a corner and this time Ash Jackson tested the keeper with a solid header. Sphinx were all over Atherstone and on 55 minutes they got their reward. McBride, who had been terrorising the full back all night, went on an incredible run to see his shot saved but the rebound went wide and the alert Wilson fired in a first time cross for RANKIN to head in. Superb football from Sphinx to give them a lead that was well deserved. Sphinx continued to dominate and a burst through midfield from Thomson almost brought them a third. Sphinx were producing some excellent passages of play and looked far more likely to score again. Sphinx were having great success with their corners and McBride picked out Wilson from the next one that saw his header brilliantly saved. The ball was immediately returned to the danger zone by Jackson and Thomson brought it down to hit another shot at the overworked Atherstone keeper. Thomson was flying now and he produced another mazy run to leave the Atherstone defence floundering. The first substitution of the night from Luke Hopkins was the introduction of Luke Downes who replaced Wilson up front. Wilson had given us a marvellous performance on his debut and he was rightly applauded off by the travelling support. Within minutes of being on the pitch Downes was involved in some lovely football with Rankin that led to a blocked shot. The onslaught continued and in the 76th minute the third goal finally came. Another good run from McBride saw him get to the by-line and fire in a perfect low cross for RANKIN to slam into the net. 3-1 to The Sphinx and no more than they deserved. There was no let up from Sphinx and they added a fourth in the 89th minute when Richard BLYTHE demonstrated his quick feet to dance through the Atherstone defence and bury a well deserved goal. There was still time for Downes and Downie to test the keeper again but there were to be no further goals. A tremendous team performance from Sphinx tonight and a perfect reaction to the disappointing display at the weekend. Manager Luke Hopkins has seen what they are capable of and will be expecting to see this performance level on a consistent basis.
FULL TIME: ATHERSTONE TOWN 1 COVENTRY SPHINX 4
MAN OF THE MATCH: RICHARD BLYTHE
Spoilt for choice tonight and all three new signings were exceptional. 18 year old Barnett oozed class at the back, Wilson gave us a display on centre forward play that was a joy to watch and Rankin showed his class and capped it with two goals. Thomson and McBride were both in good form on the wings and McBride in particular was sensational. Banks and Blythe have got a good midfield partnership going but Blythe was the master of this team performance tonight. He showed good leadership, was pulling the strings in centre midfield and got on the score sheet too. I’m not sure if this man ever stops running!
COVENTRY SPHINX TEAM: O’NEILL, DOWNIE, JACKSON, BANKS (Muldoon 88 mins), ROONEY, BARNETT, McBRIDE, BLYTHE, RANKIN, WILSON (Downes 71 mins), THOMSON (Bates 79 mins)
Next Coventry Sphinx fixture:
HOME – AFC WULFRUNIANS – League – Saturday 19th September, 3pm kick off