Coventry Sphinx travelled to Walsall Wood on Saturday after making progress in the Birmingham Senior Cup in midweek with a win over AFC Wulfrunians at Sphinx Drive. A visit to Walsall Wood has proven to be a difficult match for Sphinx recently and they would certainly need to perform to get a result here. Stuart Dutton made three changes to the team that beat AFC Wulfrunians, two of those enforced by injury. McAteer returned to the centre of defence alongside Eggleton, Towers returned to lead the line up front and Luke Downes came into the side on the left of midfield.
The weather was ideal for football on a decent looking surface and it was Walsall Wood who started the stronger of the teams as they looked to put early pressure on the Sphinx goal. Sphinx were defending stoutly and looked up for the battle that was ahead of them today and they soon got their first chance of the match with a rapid breakaway. Jamie Towers latched onto a long ball down the right and his early cross was delivered perfectly for Blackmore who had broken forward from centre midfield. Blackmore couldn’t keep down his first time shot on the run and his effort went over the bar with the Walsall Wood defence left flailing. Walsall responded with a shot that whistled past Scott Dutton’s upright as both sides looked for the opening goal. Towers was right in the thick of the next threat to Walsall’s goal with him getting a good downward header onto a superbly delivered free kick from left back Jordan Fesel. After the early burst from Walsall Wood, the game was settling down into an even but physical contest. Reece Blackmore in particular seemed to be on the end of a number of fouls but he just kept coming back for more alongside his midfield partner Liam Cairns. Sphinx were really growing into the game now and in the 27th minute they took the lead after winning the battle of the six yard box. Initially Brad Jones did well to win the corner and the delivery into a crowded area was kept alive by a determined Sphinx who managed to stab the ball into the net thanks to the alert Aron WINT. That was Wint’s first goal for the club and he was certainly helping Towers provide a physical presence in attack. Sphinx were playing some decent football but “Route One” gave them their next chance. A long kick was flicked on by Towers, who was proving a real handful to the Walsall defence, and Downes had anticipated the flick to drive towards goal before hitting a shot just wide of the keepers left hand post. Minutes later another midfielder broke forward and Liam Cairns run was abruptly ended with a foul when he appeared to be through on goal. The Walsall Wood defender could consider himself fortunate to remain on the pitch after escaping with a yellow card for his high and late challenge. The free kick came to nothing but Sphinx were now well worth their one goal lead. Blackmore was fouled yet again and Sphinx took the opportunity to send their centre backs forward for the free kick. They combined well with McAteer winning the header and Eggleton claiming for a penalty after he went down in the box. The ref was having none of it and Walsall Wood were then prevented from equalising by Scott Lower throwing himself in front of an effort minutes before half time. We went into the break with Sphinx holding a slender lead but there was still plenty of work ahead of them.
HALF TIME: WALSALL WOOD 0 COVENTRY SPHINX 1
It was Sphinx’s turn to start the half the stronger and they put the hosts goal under severe pressure mainly due to some excellent corners delivered by Brad Jones. The first corner was spilt by the Walsall keeper and only a goal line clearance saved his blushes. The keeper was clearly still rattled by his error and flapped at the next but the resulting Sphinx shot was deflected over the bar. The third corner was cleared and Walsall Wood had survived. Sphinx were looking the better side but Walsall Wood were proving difficult to break down. A set piece proved to be their undoing on 64 minutes with Sphinx deservedly extending their lead. It was simple goal thanks to a superb free kick delivery from Downes. The ball was swung in from left touchline and EGGLETON wheeled away claiming the faintest of touches after the ball nestled in the net. 2-0 Sphinx but Walsall Wood were not beaten yet and they responded by forcing Dutton into a good save. The Sphinx management team made their first substitution on 71 minutes with recent signing Jimmy Halton replacing Brad Jones. Halton went into centre midfield with Blackmore moving out to the right. Sphinx looked to be on their way to victory but a harsh looking penalty for handling a driven cross gave the home side a chance to get back into the match. The penalty was well struck and looked to be flying inside the post but Scott Dutton dived the right way, stretched and got a firm hand onto it to keep it out. An incredible save and one that Scott Dutton will rightly be proud of. Towers then made way to a round of applause from the Sphinx support to be replaced by Ryan Harkin and within two minutes of his introduction he set up Jimmy Halton for the third Sphinx goal on 85 minutes. Harkin slipped a lovely ball through for Halton breaking forward from midfield and he poked it past the keeper who had rushed out to confront him. The only blot on the afternoon for Sphinx was a late free kick scored by Walsall Wood to deny Dutton the clean sheet he had deserved. A mass bout of handbags followed the consolation goal but Sphinx looked comfortable as they saw at the game to claim the three points. Sphinx had performed well and had the points to go with it today. They coped really well with the physical aspects of the game today and the manager will be pleased with how his side is developing.
FULL TIME: WALSALL WOOD 1 COVENTRY SPHINX 3
MAN OF THE MATCH: ARON WINT
A really tough call today with every single player displaying good attitudes, a will to win and no fear. Scott Dutton had a very good game in goal and I won’t be forgetting that penalty save in a hurry. The back four were solid and full of experience. Jordan Fesel was the odd one out at left back but only due to his young age. Fesel demonstrated why young players should be given their chance if good enough and produced a strong performance of real maturity. Blackmore and Cairns made a good partnership in the centre of midfield. They worked their socks off and were battered from pillar to post but they kept coming back for more. Jamie Towers had arguably his best game since returning to the club and Walsall Wood never really solved the problem of how to cope with him in the air. However, Aron Wint was my Man of the Match today because I felt he brought something to the team we have been missing. He linked the midfield to the attack but is also strong enough to compete physically up front which takes some of the pressure off Towers.
COVENTRY SPHINX TEAM:
DUTTON, LOWER (c), FESEL, CAIRNS, EGGLETON, McATEER, JONES (Halton 71 mins), BLACKMORE, TOWERS (Harkin 83 mins), WINT, DOWNES (Nkosi 88 mins)