29 March 2017

2016/17: Lye Town (Midland Football League Premier Divison)

Let's try this again. Tonight we welcome Lye Town to Sphinx Drive after a previous postponement and it promises to be a difficult evening, hopefully for both sides.

It's been some time since Coventry Sphinx had a home game but our away form in March has made it a really enjoyable mini-tour of the Midlands. But it began on our own turf with a 3-0 win against AFC Wulfrunians, over whom the Sphinx completed the double after finding their groove in the last quarter of a game that had been rather untidy up to that point.

Ryan Harkin's introduction from the bench made the difference that afternoon and he began a stellar goalscoring run with two crisp finishes against Wulfrunians, the second being teed up superbly by Nathan McGarrity. The third goal killed the game and was created by a fabulous cross by Liam Cairns. Jamie Towers' header was unstoppable.

Debutant full back Lewis Hudson was sent off late for a handball on the line. It didn't look like he'd handled it from our position near the other end. Either way, I don't know how the referee could have been sure enough to give a penalty and dismiss Hudson. Scott Dutton wasn't called into action by an awful spot kick.

It seemed just a matter of time before we got our noses in front against Wulfrunians and the visit to Tividale was a trickier encounter despite the chasm in quality between the two sides and an earlier breakthrough. Suspensions and availability issues meant that the 3-1 away win was achieved by a scratch side, several players having to play in unfamiliar positions.

The Sphinx goalscorers were the same as in the previous match. Harkin buried his first goal at the second attempt after forcing a save from the Tividale goalkeeper in the first half, and added a gorgeous free kick in the second. Another thumping Towers header gave the goalkeeper no hope and banked three more welcome points.

But there was nothing easy about the win. Reece Blackmore was controversially sent off and Harkin's second goal was an immediate response that proved crucial. That red card necessitated another reshuffle at the back and yet another was required when Scott Lower was unable to continue after a nasty clash of heads. Towers ended the game in a makeshift defence.

Our 'visit' to Sphinx Drive was a horrible, scrappy game settled by a horrible, scrappy goal.

That disappointing afternoon was followed by one of the best of the season. Our 2-1 win over Heanor Town - rarely beaten at home, high in the table, but now twice beaten by the Sphinx this season - was a deserved reward for a superb, battling performance by another under-strength but certainly not under-committed eleven.

We went 1-0 up through Pierce Kiembi, who arrived at the back post to finish comfortably when a ball across the box evaded everyone else. We conceded from a corner almost immediately but the determination of the team to get to half time level was palpable.

And when you re-take the lead at the start of the second half, you give yourself half a chance. Harkin's well taken strike gave the boys something to hold on to, and they did it in style.

That win wasn't about grimly squeezing the life out of the game. The team had to dig in but had the better chances and could have scored more before finally taking root in their own defensive third for the last ten minutes. The Sphinx worked relentlessly all over the field and earned those points the hard way.

Duts changed the system for the Heanor game and it worked a treat. Curvin Ellis, now back at Coleshill Town, was the target, nuisance and quality we needed up front. Kiembi and McGarrity played as wing backs and both had their best games for the club. McGarrity's decisions out on the right were spot on all afternoon; I thought he was brilliant.

So too was Kiembi, who worked just as hard defensively and was able to use his ability at the other end. He linked well with Yannick Gomes, who also had his best match yet.

Finally, we went to Alvechurch and were beaten 2-0. On another day we'd have got something; a strong home side were restricted to relatively few chances and the Sphinx were unfortunate not to be in the lead before Alvechurch's first goal.

When you play teams with the ambition and resources Alvechurch have, you need to put the ball in the net when you get the opportunity, but I felt we gave a decent account of ourselves.

Our challenge here tonight is exactly the same. If the team can perform like they did at Heanor then we won't go far wrong.