by Robert Lee · 11/02/2023
Saturday 11th February 2023, FA Vase Fifth Round
Coventry Sphinx 1 (Shipman 16)
West 1 (Westall 65)
West won 3-1 on penalties
Chris Rowley praised his side's improved second-half performance as West ousted Coventry Sphinx to progress to the FA Vase Sixth Round.
A flat West looked short of answers to the Sphinx's riddle in the first half and trailed to Matthew Shipman's opener. But a more assured display after the break was rewarded with Tom Westall's equaliser, before West won a penalty shoot-out for the third time in this season's Vase run.
“I was really disappointed with the first half,” the West boss said. “The occasion may have got to us a little bit. In training this week we worked on not just going long and hitting their centre backs, but we did just that. But I was really proud of the second half performance.”
Ben Elliott, starting for the first time since the trip to AFC Liverpool over a month ago, fed on scraps for much of the opening period. At the other end, Shipman clinically fired Sphinx into the lead just after the quarter-hour mark, converting a cross from the right wing.
The home side dominated possession for the rest of the first period and had what they felt was a strong penalty appeal waved away, but West hung on for the rest of the half to just go into the break a single goal behind.
The West that emerged for the second half were more prepared to play to feet, with Darren McKnight and Callum Jones increasingly influential in the centre of the pitch.
The game's momentum swung with the introduction of Jean-Jacques Kirongozi on the hour mark - playing in a wide role, rather than down the middle as he had done in last weekend's win against Burscough - and the number 17 had a key role to play as West hauled themselves level.
Kirongozi's interchange of passes with Matthew Cook on the right wing led to Cook's cross evading Sphinx defenders and travelling as far as the onrushing Westall, who expertly steered his half-volley low and into the far corner of the net.
West, roared on by another bumper travelling support, were well on top at this point and Elliott had a pair of chances snuffed out by last-ditch Sphinx defending, before another substitute, Liam Delaney, saw an extremely ambitious acrobatic attempt drift wide of the post.
But the home side weren't quite done, and forced a series of set-pieces in the final moments. West's defence remained obstinate, with Rowley highlighting Connor Hancock - operating as an auxiliary centre back due to the late withdrawal of Keil O'Brien.
“I don't like to single out players but Connor was phenomenal”, Rowley said. “We know he can play at centre back, but I was so proud of his performance.”
As with West's previous two away ties in this season's Vase, the winner was to be decided from 12 yards. And as with those games, West emerged 3-1 winners from the spot - Cook, Westall and McKnight all converting, though Delaney placed his effort too close to the goalkeeper. The home side's aim was awry, with Andrew Jones saving their first attempt before their final two kicks were off-target, meaning it will be West's name in Monday's last eight draw.
Rowley saved special credit for the “phenomenal” West support, saying: “We can't credit the fans enough. It makes a massive difference when you come two hours away and see the support.”
West: A. Jones, Cook, Westall, McKnight, Hancock, Foulds, Matthews (Kirongozi), C. Jones, Elliott, Swift (Delaney), Eme (Dickinson). Not used: Taylor, Ryan, Vayro, Billington-Boateng.
Eckersley's Plumbers & Locksmiths Player of the Match: Andrew Jones.
We take our place in the Sixth Round of the FA Vase and are now two wins away from a Final appearance at Wembley.
There's a quick return to league action, as we host Northwich Victoria on Tuesday 14th February (7:45pm).