The final game of 2016 was at Sphinx Drive on New Years Eve and the visitors Shepshed always provide us with tough opposition. Earlier in the season Sphinx had come away from Leicestershire with three points after a hard fought 3-2 win and today would need similar battling qualities to overcome a resilient Shepshed side. Stuart Dutton had selection problems with the unavailability of key players such as Lower and Towers and with midfielders Woodward and Blackmore suspended, the Sphinx squad would be tested for it’s depth today. Five changes were made from the derby match on Boxing Day with both full backs replaced by the returning Brad Jones and Rhys Deehan. Liam Cairns came back into the centre of midfield, Motshweni got a start on the wing and recent signing Nathan McGarrity replaced Ryan Harkin up front.
A really good crowd were here for this 12 noon kick off and Sphinx had two great chances to go ahead in the opening five minutes. The first chance came to McGarrity who was through on goal but some good goalkeeping kept his shot out and then McAteer found space in the box but headed just over from a good position. Shepshed soon got into their stride and forced Sphinx keeper Scott Dutton into two saves of his own. Both sides were working hard and there was little to choose between them. Sphinx would create one more big chance in this half with good play from McGarrity setting up Jackson Downie in the middle of the penalty box. Downie appeared to be caught in two minds between placement or power and his shot ended up being neither in the end as the effort was kept out and cleared. This game was finely balanced and the first goal could be critical in deciding the outcome. The half would end goal less but I had seen enough to believe there would be goals in the second half.
HALF TIME: COVENTRY SPHINX 0 SHEPSHED DYNAMO 0
Shepshed produced the first serious threat on goal with Dutton reacting quickly to save with his legs. The resulting corner wasn’t cleared and Shepshed’s Liam Read took full advantage by putting his side in front on 51 minutes. Stuart Dutton reacted to the set back immediately by replacing wide man Motshweni with striker Ryan Harkin. Shepshed responded with another effort on goal and Dutton came up with the save of the match with a full stretch dive low to his left preventing the visitors from doubling their lead. Sphinx were on the back foot now and a low cross from the left ended with two Shepshed attackers sliding in and the ball hitting the post and away to safety. A moment of luck for Sphinx which was the catalyst for them to lift their game and get on the front foot. The next chance was all about Luke Downes who started the move in centre midfield and he continued his run into the box where he was fed by McGarrity. Downes hit a first time shot sweetly but the cross bar kept the Shepshed lead intact. The woodwork was Shepshed’s saviour again with Wint’s shot thumping against the post after an accurate cross from Jones down the right. Shepshed then had a spell of their own with a swerving drive testing Dutton to the full. A Shepshed free kick then led to a header over the bar as they threatened to double their lead. Sphinx still believed they could get something from this game and left back Deehan powered forward again to trigger the equalising goal. Deehan’s run down the left released Harkin to continue onto the by-line and he had the presence of mind to lift his cross to the back post where right back JONES powered in an unstoppable header to equalise on 78 minutes. The momentum was with Sphinx now but Shepshed still fancied the win themselves. Either side could have took the win but it was Sphinx who came up with the winner on 88 minutes. Harkin was at the heart of this one with substitute King receiving a Harkin pass down the left before firing in a cross that fell to Harkin in the box. HARKIN calmly assessed the bounce of the ball before opting for power to drive in the winner. Injury time had one further chance for Sphinx with McGarrity setting up Harkin for a one on one that the keeper thwarted. A tremendous comeback from a depleted Sphinx side will have left manager Stuart Dutton delighted but this was a game that either side could have won which was ultimately decided by the better finishing. Shepshed will go away feeling they had done enough to deserve at least a point and without the form of Sphinx keeper Dutton they could well have gone away with a win. Sphinx however, were rewarded for their determination and that win leaves then in the top 10 at the turn of the year which they will be more than happy with at the moment.
FULL TIME: COVENTRY SPHINX 2 SHEPSHED DYNAMO 1
MAN OF THE MATCH: SCOTT DUTTON
Four players impressed me today and I’ll start with the performance of Rhys Deehan at left back. Last season this young man was playing for Folly Lane in the Coventry Alliance and today he gave overwhelming proof of the talent around the city. He defended with determination but when in possession he was positive with his driving runs forward. He’s a powerful player and certainly caught the eye today. Anyone who knows me knows I rarely miss a chance to praise Luke Downes and today he was well worth the praise coming his way. He rarely gives the ball away in central midfield and was inches away from scoring today. He can also add leadership to his strengths today with his communication standing out on the pitch. Young striker Nathan McGarrity may not be the biggest but he’s a good footballer and kept the Shepshed back line on their toes. Keeper Scott Dutton gets my Man of the Match today thanks to key saves at key times. His efforts in goal allowed Sphinx the opportunity to make the come back and he is now a key player in this Sphinx side.
COVENTRY SPHINX TEAM: DUTTON, JONES, DEEHAN, WINT (Hardwick 88 mins), McATEER, EGGLETON, DOWNES, CAIRNS, McGARRITY, DOWNIE (King 73 mins), MOTSHWENI (Harkin 52 mins). Unused Sub: McCalla