A midweek trip to Cradley Town was ahead of us to take on Black Country Rangers after the first FA Vase match ended 1-1 after extra time at Sphinx Drive. That match ended in dramatic fashion with the sides exchanging goals in the final minutes of extra time but that was nothing compared to what we were about to witness tonight.
The night began with the Sphinx preparation far from ideal as the players kit only arrived half an hour before kick off and at this point Sphinx didn’t have eleven players to field due to traffic issues. Despite this disruption, manager Luke Hopkins was able to pick a strong looking side. There were a number of changes from the first match with the most notable one being the welcome return of Ricky Fletcher to the centre of defence after 6 months away working. He was partnered by Matty Taylor which renewed last season’s centre back partnership. Winger Lewis McBride was unavailable this evening as was striker Charlie Wilson who was recovering from an eye injury. Wilson’s absence gave recent signing Trovarn Thompson an opportunity to start up front with Luke Downes playing a supporting role.
A healthy Sphinx support had made the journey tonight and they watched a fairly uneventful opening fifteen minutes. It was a scrappy start to the game but Sphinx soon established themselves into the contest. Efforts from Robbie Banks and Luke Downes threatened the Rangers goal as Sphinx started to control the game. This replay was developing in a similar way to the first match with Sphinx looking in control but Rangers protecting their goal reasonably well. The half continued with Sphinx looking the better side and they were dominating possession and territory without working the Rangers keeper too hard. Overall, a satisfactory opening half for Sphinx but they needed to provide more of a goal threat to their good play.
HALF TIME: BLACK COUNTRY RANGERS 0 COVENTRY SPHINX 0
Manager Luke Hopkins made a positive change at the break with centre forward David Akinuli coming on for midfielder Tom Muldoon. Sphinx were immediately on the front foot again with Downes and Blythe both getting in shots in the first five minutes. Matt Taylor then produced a superb cross-field ball to pick out Mitch Thomson on the right who instantly cut inside to get another effort in on goal. Sphinx were well on top at this point but out of nowhere Rangers went forward and hit the post with a fine effort. Rangers then enjoyed their best spell of the game for the next few minutes and in the 58th minute they grabbed the opening goal. A long ball forward put the Rangers striker through on goal and he managed to get past Dutton to slip Rangers into a surprise lead. The goal had given the hosts a boost and it was ten minutes or so before Sphinx got themselves back into their rhythm. Mitch Thomson was in good form tonight and another good run from him created a shooting opportunity for Blythe which was too high to trouble the keeper. 73 minutes gone now and Sphinx needed a goal quickly. Downes was the next one to try his luck after cutting in from the left and Banks followed up with a shot over the bar. 80 minutes on the clock and Sphinx manager Luke Hopkins sent on young midfielder Ryan Quinn to replace left back Jacob Dodds as they desperately searched for the equaliser they deserved. 82 minutes saw Sphinx suffer a hammer blow as Rangers took advantage of Sphinx pushing for an equaliser by doubling their lead. That looked like game over and it was incredibly cruel on Sphinx who had deserved far more from the game. The 85th saw Rangers snatch another goal as again Sphinx were still committing men forward. 3-0 to the home side with 5 minutes left to play and it was surely time to make your way to the exit if you were a Sphinx fan. Credit to Sphinx though as they kept on battling and they got their reward in the 87th minute when the referee pointed to the spot. Rich Blythe stepped up and tucked away the penalty for what looked nothing more than a consolation. Mitchell Thomson had other ideas though as he drove towards goal in the 90th minute and finished into the bottom corner to make it Rangers 3 Sphinx 2. Now we started to think this might just be possible and the Sphinx players certainly thought it was possible as they laid siege to the Rangers goal. This was an incredible finish and you just wouldn’t believe it when Ryan Quinn saw the ball fall to him in the box and guided in the equaliser. Astonishing scenes as the Sphinx fans went from misery to delirium in the space of 5 minutes. It was breathless stuff where we had watched 5 goals scored in ten amazing minutes and we needed the brief break before the start of extra time to compose ourselves!
FULL TIME: BLACK COUNTRY RANGERS 3 COVENTRY SPHINX 3
Sphinx were clearly looking the strongest of the two teams in extra time but Rangers were holding firm. Ten minutes into the first period of extra time saw Sphinx keeper Dutton make a good save to keep the scores level and soon after Sphinx took the lead with a screamer from substitute Ryan Quinn. This was the first time Sphinx had been in the lead tonight and the home team looked a spent force. Of course, this game wasn’t following the normal rules and Rangers conjured up an equaliser almost immediately. 4-4 as we ended the first period of extra time and Sphinx were still looking good for another goal. The game was still anyone’s to win though as we started the last 15 minutes of extra time. Ten minutes from the end Sphinx went back in front thanks to a cool finish from Rich Blythe. Rangers made the fatal mistake of giving Blythe space in the box and he shot across the keeper to see the goal hit the post and roll across the line. His celebrations took him to the Sphinx support on the touchlines as the players and fans celebrated together. Surely that was the winner now and Trovarn Thompson removed all doubt when he stretched the lead a minute later. I expect I will never see a game like that again and what an honour it was to witness a quite incredible comeback from a seemingly impossible situation. A game that will live long in the memory of all those in attendance and probably the best fiver they will ever spend!
RESULT (after extra time): BLACK COUNTRY RANGERS 4 COVENTRY SPHINX 6
MAN OF THE MATCH: RYAN QUINN
Mitchell Thomson looked the biggest threat for Sphinx down the right and his return to fitness is a big boost to the team. Ricky Fletcher came back in after a long break from football and he certainly performed better than you expect after such a long lay off. Captain Robbie Banks lead the team superbly and was always looking to get the team playing from midfield. Blythe contributed goals again as well as his usual high energy performance. Ryan Quinn’s introduction on 80 minutes turned out to be the key decision of the night as he got the dramatic late equaliser and struck a superb goal in extra time too. His quality on the ball was clear and he has given manager Luke Hopkins a real selection headache for the next game. That’s the kind of headache he would want though.
COVENTRY SPHINX TEAM:
DUTTON, ROONEY (Barnett 82 mins), DODDS (Quinn 80 mins), TAYLOR, FLETCHER, BANKS, MULDOON (Akinuli 46 mins), BLYTHE, THOMPSON, DOWNES, THOMSON
Next Coventry Sphinx fixture:
Away – Continental Star – Saturday 7th November, 3pm kick off – League