Exeter City Women’s unbeaten start to the season came to an end on Sunday, as Cheltenham Town took all three points at Speeds Meadow in a hard fought contest.
It was City who made the better start. Meg Robinson’s run onto a lofted pass saw her cross find Sarah Stacey in the penalty area, the forward set up the on rushing Zoe Watkins, who finished on the second occasion after the initial save had been made.
Cheltenham responded well. A series of corners had the Grecian’s defence under pressure, and when the delivery from the latest set piece found its target, Amy Wathan headed home from close range to level the game.
In an absorbing first half, it was now the home side’s turn to dominate. Sarah Stacey’s diving header went wide before Katie Grigg tested the handling of Cheltenham keeper Aimee Watson with a strike from distance. With City dominate on the ball, it was on the counter that Tom Davies’ Town posed the biggest threat, and they had two golden opportunities to take the lead before the break. Lacy-Jai Liggett benefited from a misplaced City pass and her run on goal saw a shot narrowly wide. Abby Bevan then found herself with only Home keeper Abbi Bond in front of her, the midfielder’s chipped effort drifted wide, and the scores were level at the break.
The second half settled in to a more familiar pattern for Abbie Britton and Aaron Wakley’s side, dominant in possession and probing to find an opening against a deep lying defence. Sarah Stacey’s near post flick was intercepted by returning Grecian Georgie Barbour-Gresham, before Zoe Watkins broke into the box but failed to find a red shirt with the cross, as the hosts now took control of the game.
A quick counter from a Cheltenham free kick led to neat interplay between Stacey and Phoebe Baker, the City midfielder, growing in prominence in the game, hit a fierce shot from distance that flew over the crossbar. Steph Beck was next to test the visiting defence, her header from a Katie Grigg cross was into the arms of Aimee Watson, as City kept searching for that second goal. Stacey, who was now winning her physical battle in the second half, created a chance by holding off the defender and shooting from distance. Again, for City, it was close, but not close enough.
Phoebe Baker tried her luck from distance once more as the home side looked set to mount a big finish, yet it would be the visitors who delivered a sucker punch. Caught in possession, a well weighted through ball split the home defence and Sammy Hallsworth calmly slotted Cheltenham in front.
Despite the frustration, City kept playing their possession football and looking to create the opening against a well drilled Town defence. A Mollie Taylor headed chance that went narrowly wide the best opening that City could find as the clock ticked down.
A disappointing afternoon, after a performance that certainly did not deserve to finish on the losing side, but one which will give the Grecians a guide on where improvements will be needed in the weeks and months ahead. With a game in hand on the leaders, this will be a result City will want to move past and respond in the best way possible with the weekend’s visit to Southampton Women.