26 December 2016

2016/17: Coventry United / Shepshed Dynamo (Midland Football League Premier Division)

Merry Christmas and welcome to Sphinx Drive. Where better to take in a traditional Boxing Day football match than our beloved home, with our own turf and our own stand and our own dugouts? We've been here a lot recently. Away games have their charm but home is home, isn't it? You've got to love being at home.

On December 14th Coventry Sphinx faced a huge challenge here against Sutton Coldfield Town in the Birmingham Senior Cup. Although we were eliminated, Sutton's superior status in the football pyramid certainly wasn't played out on the night. The Sphinx took the lead in the first half and it was deserved; our team were playing some lovely football and were the better of the two.

The goal was indicative of Sutton's worries at the back and our ability to give them the wobbles. After already nearly getting in behind their high line on a couple of occasions, busy striker Ryan Harkin picked up a loose backpass and took the opportunity to show off his improving decisions and composure, teeing up Tom King for a tap-in.

Conceding twice to lose the game and exit the cup was frustrating. The Sphinx were caught out at the very end of each half and can consider themselves unlucky not to have taken the game to a penalty shoot-out, or even to have won it inside 90 minutes.

Such a result would've been just what they deserved. Despite a few setbacks it was a battling performance in which Callum Woodward led a tough midfield that provided the basis for Harkin to look for scraps with his sterling effort up top. But it wasn't to be. A very creditable performance wasn't enough to keep our cup hopes alive and we returned to league action last Saturday.

It was controversial action too. Woodward's red card and a 2-0 deficit posed a hell of a challenge and the boys met it emphatically. Those ten players fighting back in the fog to level the game at 2-2 against a side with Westfields' quality - with a goal for McCalla, no less - tells you everything you need to know about the improvements Duts and the team have made over the past couple of months.

Despite being a man down they got the equaliser and looked likeliest at that point to score a third. But the way we eventually came to lose is worthy of comment. Westfields were awarded a penalty kick in fog so thick it was impossible to see from one side of the pitch to the other. The visitors hadn't even asked for it and I doubt they'd have protested had it not been awarded.

Why the referee took the risk with the visibility as poor as it was is beyond me. Not giving it would've been an easy out and he chose the path of most resistance.

Allowing the game to go the distance was a more serious risk. By the time the Sphinx equalised there was no remaining gamesmanship in calls for an abandonment. The team went about it the right way, dragging themselves back to par rather than waiting for the officials to get them off the hook. The gaffer can be proud of them.

And so we move on to Boxing Day and a fixture against Coventry United. Even as derby matches go there are a whole bunch of weird little dynamics at play. It's unusual in many ways but it's also a part of the odd world of the football derby. It'll have all the spice and snark and squall that derbies bring, and I'll hate every minute of it. I'll love it as well, and that's kind of the point.

I don't share the common affinity to Coventry City. To me this game has nothing to do with Sky Blues internal supporter politics, an aspect that's taken on even more significance in the last two weeks.

But if you're here on Boxing Day, you've already found the right place to watch your football in this city. It'll be the right place next season too.

Between now and New Year we also face Shepshed Dynamo, a team already indeed beaten by the Sphinx this season. Because my shambolic friend decided to get married during the football season - I was in Newquay instead of effing and blinding on the sidelines.

If they can show that kind of grit and also display their considerable quality over this festive week we'll have two games well worth watching here at Sphinx Drive. Two positive results would be the icing on the cake.