Sphinx travelled to Highgate on Saturday to take on a Highgate side who had only lost two home league games this season and earlier in the week had beaten league leaders Hereford at Edgar Street. Clearly a tough match ahead for Sphinx but they have been steadily improving since the enforced winter break.
Manager Robbie Banks is having the benefit of selecting a reasonably settled side at the moment and the one enforced change was Jack Rooney coming back in for the unavailable Mark Albrighton. Rooney has found himself on the bench recently but he still has the joint most appearances for Coventry Sphinx alongside Luke Downes this season. The other changes were the experienced Muldoon coming in at right back, Rankin returning in place of young striker Nesbitt and Thomson reclaiming his place up front after unfortunately missing out on starting the previous match due to transport issues.
I’ve got to say the Highgate pitch looked in excellent condition and certainly played well too. I understand the Groundsman looks after the pitch on a voluntary basis in his spare time so huge credit must go to him for the surface he prepared for today’s match. It was a slow start to the game with Highgate looking to build from the back and an organised Sphinx side happy for the hosts to have possession in areas that were not hurting them. It was a solid start from Sphinx and their first sniff of a chance came when Downes broke through the centre of midfield to supply Rankin who shot over the bar from outside the box. Minutes later Highgate were awarded a penalty after a foul by Ryan Quinn. It was difficult to tell from my viewpoint whether he got the ball with his tackle but the referee didn’t hesitate in blowing his whistle and pointing to the spot. To rub salt in the wounds Quinn found himself in the book as well. Jack Hartopp is a big presence in the Sphinx goal and he dived to his right to beat away the spot kick and keep the scores level on 15 minutes. A really good stop from Hartopp and Sphinx responded with three corners on the trot with the last of these being headed over the Highgate bar by Sphinx defender Ricky Fletcher. Sphinx were well in this game despite Highgate’s obvious quality in forward areas. Sphinx produced some good football in the 27th minute to set up Downes for a strike at goal and two minutes later Sphinx went in front with a goal of the season contender. The goal was all Lewis RANKIN after he received the ball in midfield and produced a burst of pace to go past the first defender, skipped past a couple more challenges before rifling an unstoppable effort inside the post. A tremendous effort and worthy of taking the lead in any game. Sphinx could only enjoy their lead for seven minutes however as Highgate struck back with a good finish across the keeper from Aaron Brown. 1-1 looked a fair score as we approached half time but there was still time for a moment of controversy. Sphinx striker Mitch Thomson raced onto a through ball and the Highgate keeper rushed out to tackle him in what looked like a 50/50 challenge where both striker and keeper met the ball at the same time. To the surprise of both sides the referee awarded the penalty to Sphinx. There was a brief delay as the Highgate players argued their case with the referee but Jackson DOWNIE kept his cool to tuck away the spot kick to give Sphinx a half time lead.
HALF TIME: HIGHGATE UTD 1 COVENTRY SPHINX 2
Highgate are a good side and a response from them was expected this half. Sphinx are not the type of side who try to sit on a lead so the second half was set be an interesting 45 minutes. Ten minutes into the half Sphinx got some opportunities in quick succession and the Highgate goalkeeper was equal to their efforts. The spell started with Jackson Downie being brought down a few yards from the edge of the box. Mitch Thomson stepped up to fire in the free kick that was heading for the top corner but Catlow did brilliantly to claw it away. The resulting corner was also met by Thomson and again Catlow saved well. Another corner followed but Downes’ effort from the edge of the box flew over the bar. A good spell from Sphinx but they were pegged back again on 63 minutes as a cross from the right was side-footed in by Cosgrove at the near post. Sphinx will have felt the goal was preventable but 2-2 was a fair reflection of the game so far. A couple of substitutes followed for Sphinx as manager Robbie Banks left the field with a leg problem and he was replaced by the returning Adam Bilic. Striker Nesbitt also came on for midfielder Luke Downes as Sphinx looked to win the game. Bilic slotted back in as if he had never been away from the club as he produced a delightful turn to evade a Highgate midfielder and it was certainly good to see Adam back involved with the club. The most significant chance for Sphinx came when Mitch Thomson pinched the ball back in midfield and after driving forward into the penalty box he hit his shot too high when well placed. Either side could have won this entertaining game but a draw was a fair result in the end.
FULL TIME: HIGHGATE UTD 2 COVENTRY SPHINX 2
MAN OF THE MATCH: LEWIS RANKIN
The performance of the team is improving game by game and having players with good attitudes and a more settled squad is contributing to that without a doubt. Individuals who stood out were centre backs Fletcher and Rooney who had a tough afternoon against a very lively Highgate strike force. Player Manager Robbie Banks is a good influence out on the pitch and his contribution shouldn’t be under estimated. Jackson Downie produced another good performance in midfield and Ryan Quinn was all over the pitch as he worked hard in defence and attack. The front two of Thomson and Rankin were a threat but Rankin gets my Man of the Match today. Rankin produced a goal of real quality and looked dangerous for Sphinx.
COVENTRY SPHINX TEAM: HARTOPP, MULDOON, BRATHWAITE, BANKS (Bilic 70 mins), ROONEY, FLETCHER, DOWNIE, QUINN, RANKIN, DOWNES (Nesbitt 73 mins), THOMSON