23 November 2016

2016/17: Highgate United (Midland Football League Premier Division)

Losing 5-0 at home is a bitter pill to swallow but one of the great things about football is that there's always a chance for a team to redeem itself. Coventry Sphinx responded perfectly to the defeat against St Andrews by beating Loughborough University at Sphinx Drive on November 12th.

It was an especially satisfying win not only because it came on the back of such a poor result, but because it was a deserved reward for a solid home performance and a number of the same players were involved in both matches. We also saw a tactical tweak have its desired effect, which is always noteworthy.

And, of course, it was our first home league win since this idiot went on holiday instead of watching the Sphinx depantsing Brocton on opening day, so it's hardly surprising that the team had to earn it the hard way. Having seen five pour in without reply the previous Monday, conceding out of nowhere against Loughborough gave ample cause for concern.

We needn't have worried and we didn't have time to. I think the speed of the Sphinx's equaliser was vital and ultimately won us the game. Loughborough's lead lasted just seconds, allowing it no time to sink in and no chance to affix itself to the players' minds.

By hitting back straight away, the Sphinx reset the clock and set about taking what they deserved from their second period superiority. Just a few minutes later Ryan Harkin fair buried the winner to bank the three points and fire the Sphinx up to ninth.

Harks did the hard bit but he was fed by Reece Blackmore, who was terrific on his return from suspension. He teed up the winner, headed in the equaliser and, for me at least, put in a Man of the Match performance in the centre of midfield. And, as his sponsor, my opinion obviously counts double.

His ability to put a boot in where he could get hurt was a key part of the winning performance. He was progressive but economical in possession too, and he gave up no ground in the midfield battle.

There were other good individual performances but overall it was a typical team effort. Nevertheless, credit is due to Jamie Towers who worked his socks off up front, and to Daz Eggleton and George Cleet who controlled things in defence. Scott Dutton was rarely tested in goal but put in a confident and vocal showing, and Ryan Baldwin's ability to drive us thirty yards up the pitch once we had the lead was useful in relieving the pressure.

But Saturday's trip to Lye Town brought us back down to earth with a bump. When you have a player sent off after five minutes against an effective side like Lye, you start to think it's not going to be your day. When you then fall behind to a couple of sweetly caught first-time hits into the bottom corners there's no doubt about it.

Aron Wint's red card - which I felt could've been handled better by the officials - left the Sphinx with an incredibly difficult afternoon ahead of them, and the second half was a tough watch. But the first was another show of grit against the odds; with the scoreline at 1-0 heading into the break, the talk on the sidelines was that we were still in it.

Without downs there are no ups, so we learn some lessons from Saturday and move on to take on Highgate United this evening.

A home defeat to Highgate ended our FA Cup campaign before it started. I'm sure Duts and the boys will be keen to put that right tonight, and that this will be a different proposition for our visitors. We've turned over a number of players since August and the team, while they certainly don't always have it their own way, are now more competitive, more solid and more dangerous.

Last time I missed a home game was a week after Highgate's last visit and it was a day to remember, so my fingers are crossed for three points. Up the Sphinx.