Coventry Sphinx 2 HISTON 1
Uhlsport United Counties League Premier Division South
Saturday 25th March 2023
Connor Barnes scored after just 1 minute and 20 seconds to give Histon a flying start against promotion favourites Coventry Sphinx but the home side fought back with two second half goal to take a narrow but highly significant win in the race for the league title.
The Sphinx pulled level with the battling Stutes on 52 minutes, after which both sides had good chances to win the game. But it was Sphinx top scorer Callum Stuart who scored the winner in the 78th minute to prompt seldom seen post-match celebrations by the home side’s players.
Amid all the Non-League Day activities going on at the Sphinx Industrial Supplies Arena, including a guest appearance and live radio broadcast by TV’s Dion Dublin, the Stutes made an explosive start to the game, exhibiting little respect for the home sides record of 9 victories in their previous 10 league games. What followed was a high tempo game that was a credit to the occasion.
The Histon performance was all the more praise-worthy given the shortage of defensive players among the Histon squad that had made the journey. With Pat Bexfield and Luke Crisp both likely to be out for the remainder of the season and Max York out of the country, only three recognised defenders were available to Lance Key to choose from. The responsibility of containing the prolific Sphinx front men fell to a back four of Marcus Cole, Sam Collison, Ollie Brookes and Charlie Tunnell, all of whom greatly enhanced their reputations on the day.
It was the Coventry side that launched the first attack of the afternoon but any danger to the Histon goal was snubbed out by Ollie Brookes, who swept a fine pass out to Dan Brown on the left touchline. Brownie turned and played an early ball to Connor Barnes who had run into space behind the home defence. In one move, and with all the coolness and finesse of Dion Dublin in his prime, Barnes drove the ball low past the keeper’s right hand before many in the crowd had even taken up their positions.
The goal had come as an early wake-up call to the home side playing into the wind on their spacious former Rolls-Royce sports ground with its unspoiled views of the surrounding area, access to local amenities and potential for further development. Their response was almost immediate as their dangerous wide man found space between Cole and Collison only to mis-kick at the vital moment. Hearts were again in mouths a few moments later when Sam Roach fumbled a through ball but recovered before the on-rushing striker could capitalise.
As new defensive partnerships began to gel in the Histon back line, the Sphinx attacks were resulting in half-chances at best. A sign of the growing frustration withing the home ranks came when the otherwise impressive Kyle Carey was forced wide before going to ground in an attempt to win a penalty. However, the youthful Referee was having none of it and produced a yellow card to emphasise the point.
At the other end, the Stutes frequently reminded the home side that they had the ammunition to hurt them further. No joy was coming from high balls played towards a solid defensive back line, but when keeping the ball on the deck, Histon were cutting through the home defence with some slick passing moves (a stark contrast to the established Stutes style we have become accustomed to over many years). Ryan Towner and Connor Barnes linked together well to create a chance for Luke Lindsay and the Barnes-Lindsay combination almost gave Dan Brown a clear chance but for some last ditch defending. From the resulting corner, Ollie Brookes went down under a challenge that would have attracted the interests of the VAR official had it been in operation.
The second period opened with Connor Barnes and Bubba Camara continuing the counter-attacking theme of the first half, but the sky blues were clearly looking to make the same impact at the start of the second half as their visitors had in the first. Pressure was being brought to bear on the Histon goal and, with Sphinx now benefitting from the strong breeze, Roach had to be on his toes to palm away a dangerous-looking corner. The equaliser was to come when a ball was played over the Histon back line. While some players were looking to the Assistant Referee for a flag that didn’t appear, Kyle Carey latched onto the bouncing ball and lobbed it into the net, giving Sam Roach no chance of making a save.
The Stutes re-grouped and were soon looking to restore the lead. Harry Meats, who was in the thick of the action for most of the game, battled hard on the edge of the Coventry penalty area to poke a pass to Dan Brown, only for the forward’s shot to be smothered by covering defenders. Sam Collison was then glad to see a chance for the Sphinx go begging after he mis-directed a header, but the Histon man was otherwise more than proficient in his work along-side Ollie Brookes. Likewise, Marcus Cole got in the way of anything threatening coming down the Histon right flank.
With 20 minutes left on the clock, the best chance of the half fell to Connor Barnes after Luke Lindsay’s pass had found him in space and with just the keeper to beat. The scorer of the opening goal opted to get his shot away early but the keeper went full stretch to his left to push the ball around the post. It was a let-off for the home side and within 5 minutes they look full advantage of their good fortune. A Sphinx attack ended with the ball at the feet of Callum Stewart on the edge of the penalty area and, as so often is the case, his shot finished in the net.
A nasty looking injury to a Coventry Sphinx player resulted in him be stretchered off amid concern for his welfare from his team-mates and both physios. Reports suggested that an ambulance was called due to a suspected broken arm but our hopes are that this fear is unfounded.
Lance Key turned to his subs bench to replace Bubba Camara and Marcus Cole, both of whom had nothing left in the tank after giving their all for 80 minutes. Harry Meats also left the field with a slight limp which may be a concern with next weekend’s game at Wellingborough in mind. The changes meant the Stutes now had two 16-year-olds on the pitch as they pushed forward looking to level the game in the 11 minutes of added time. For the Sphinx, this was unfamiliar territory as seldom do they feel the need to defend so deeply to hang on to a lead on their own ground.
But there was to be no late breakthrough for the Stutes and on 101 minutes the final whistle brought the game to a close. The relief of the home side was evident on the final whistle as the players celebrated their victory in unorthodox style in front of the dugouts with a raucous renditioning of “Oh When the Sphinx Go Marching In.” The Histon management team meanwhile looked on in bemusement as they gathered their belongings amidst such scenes.
For the Stutes, the result meant that the run without defeat ends at nine games. As far as defeats go this was one from which the players can hold their heads up high, particularly Ben Hurrion and Roman Lott-Canning who took time out from their GCSE revision to make themselves available to their manager from the bench. Coventry Sphinx are undoubtedly a strong side at Step 5 and the three points they gained from this match mean they can now overhaul Rugby Town at the top of the table if they win their game in hand. The scenes at the end of the match showed how much the win meant to them but it was one they were made to fight for tooth and nail for.
Histon: Sam Roach, Marcus Cole, Charlie Tunnell, Ryan Towner, Sam Collison, Ollie Brookes, Luke Lindsay, Harry Meats (Roman Lott-Canning 90), Connor Barnes, Bubba Camara (Dexter Todd 82), Dan Brown (Ben Hurrion 82).
Histon subs not used: Chris Gough.
Histon yellow cards: Dan Brown, Luke Lindsay.
Histon goal scorer: Connor Barnes 2.