04 March 2017

2016/17: AFC Wulfrunians (Midland Football League Premier Division)

It's been a while. Recent games against Brocton, Lye Town and Alvechurch fell to the weather but each time the decision was made early enough to prevent unnecessary travel. Those of us nerdy enough to look for games elsewhere had plenty of time to do so. What else are we going to do?

We finally got back into the thick of it on the all-weather pitch at Boldmere St Michael's and were the better team from start to finish. The Sphinx did well to not allow themselves to be kicked out of the game by a team who were happy to leave a foot in while the referee wasn't looking.

But we didn't do enough with our superiority. Even after Boldmere were reduced to ten men the Sphinx didn't create enough chances to put the game beyond the hosts. Had that milestone been reached before half time it wouldn't have been unjust. Instead, we finally got in front inside the last twenty minutes through substitute Curvin Ellis, who got a touch on Jamie Towers' header to squeeze in a debut goal.

A gaping chance then went begging and Boldmere punished us. Their cross in stoppage time was neither closed down nor dealt with once it arrived, and we conceded in the most frustrating circumstances.

The performance, though, was promising. Two weeks later the team's display at Westfields was even better. Callum Woodward scored twice only for the Sphinx to be pegged back and made to settle for a 2-2 draw, but bringing a point back to Coventry was a hard-earned and thoroughly deserved achievement. Not many teams get a result there.

The main characteristic of Westfields is that they're really sodding far away. At our level a trip to Hereford is a bit of an undertaking for team and supporters alike, and to come away satisfied with a job well done was a huge improvement on our two visits to the city last season.

Those long journeys are easy when the players perform like they did. Every one of them left everything out there on the pitch. No holding back, no what-ifs, no regrets. I'll go that distance twice over for a team that gives me that every week.

The team travelling to away games together is a positive thing for their preparation. It can work wonders for unity and focus, and it creates a sense of occasion. That can work for us or against us, but this time around it contributed to a good, solid point.

The rearranged away game at Brocton was a different story. After the monstrous effort at Westfields I'm tempted to accept that tiredness played a big part, but a 1-0 defeat to a poor side was a bad result to cap a disappointing performance.

Disappointing, that is, except for one player. Scott Dutton was incredible in goal. Being caught out by the wind was a hideously harsh way to concede in a game that saw him make seven or eight top-notch saves the keep us in the game. He pulled out the full range of saves, and the frame of the goal looked mighty small around him by the end of the game.

Woodward and Richard Lavery were both given straight red cards at the conclusion of a game that ended acrimoniously. It was a frustrating night. The Sphinx weren't at the races but also suffered from the referee's extremely lenient approach to Brocton's late challenges and transparent time-wasting from the first whistle. The subsequent loss of discipline is going to cost us over the next month.

A week ago we were back on the M6 again to face Sporting Khalsa. The Sphinx controlled the first quarter of an hour but went in behind at the break after Khalsa edged themselves ahead and a good chance for Reece Blackmore didn't get the connection it needed. Nevertheless, we were still in the game.

In the second half, Khalsa's quality told. They were clinical in taking their chances and cruised into a 4-0 lead while our showing dipped. The team's response was good to see, even though it was unlikely to get us anything from the game. Kieran McCalla turned in a header from a set piece to pull one back, and Ryan Harkin fired a fizzing shot across the goalkeeper into the bottom corner a minute later.

Today we're at home for the first time in what feels like ages. AFC Wulfrunians will be keen to do to us what we did to them in Wolverhampton earlier in the season. The Sphinx team will need to be right on their game to prevent that.