Exeter City Women’s title hopes ended with a defeat at Cheltenham Town - a victory that sees the Gloucestershire side just one win away from claiming the top spot and completing a memorable season.
The Grecians have made a habit of making fast starts in recent weeks, but it was Town who landed the first hit. A fierce strike thirty yards from goal by Charlotte Criddle was out of the reach of Abbi Bond and the game had its first goal after only two minutes.
Sarah Stacey was close to an immediate response, her effort denied by the on rushing Town Goalkeeper Aimee Watson, with Abbi Bond denying another long range effort at the other end as the home side broke. City then became the creators of their own downfall, an under hit back pass was always going to give the pacy Lacy-Jai Liggett a chance, she poked the ball beyond Bond to double the lead.
Phoebe Baker’s snapshot was narrowly wide as the Grecians looked for a way back in, but more questionable marking saw a Cheltenham corner powered home by Courtney Jones for a three goal lead with only fifteen minutes on the clock.
Zoe Watkins’ close range volley was brilliantly denied by Watson low to her right, with Mollie Taylor then heading over moments later. City had settled defensively and were now on top, controlling the ball and looking for a way back into the game. That goal was to arrive shortly before half time, Watson making the initial save before Stacey smashed home the rebound. It was a tense, physical battle, but still all to play for as the whistle blew for the break.
The second half began with City upping the tempo, with slick passages of play they were comfortably getting to the Town penalty area, but finding it hard to breach the deep lying defensive line. There is no team in the division better at defending leads than Cheltenham and, in this stark contrast of styles, City had to remain patient in probing for chances.
Mollie Taylor, Zoe Watkins and Connie Pengelly all tried from distance; Taylor’s effort denied by more excellent goalkeeping from Watson as she palmed the ball away. Sarah Stacey’s shot was poked wide, before Baker had another strike from distance as Town stayed resilient. Manfy Sharpe and Connie Pengelly both worked Watson late on, but the home side had come out to defend their lead in the second half and, despite relentless City pressure, had done so admirably.
City were left to rue a horror start, as once they settled it was a performance to be proud of and one in which they played their own game and not Cheltenham’s, as had been the case in the previous visit to the Corinium Stadium. Disappointment for the Grecians, but it has been a season of developing for this new group and, with a toughness starting to accompany their undoubted talent in possession, the future is looking very bright for Abbie Britton and Aaron Wakley’s team.