Exeter City Women returned to league action after a succession of postponements to record an important three points against Swindon Town on Sunday - a victory that takes the team up to seventh in the National League South West table.
With the game switched to the Cliff Hill for the first occasion this season, the Grecians started brightly. Mollie Taylor’s direct ball into the Swindon backline allowed Sarah Stacey and Connie Pengelly to link, Pengelly’s long range effort hitting the upright and bouncing to safety with Swindon keeper Emily McGrogan beaten. Zoe Watkins struck a fierce effort into the side netting, before a Stacey glancing header bounced goalward, McGrogan brilliantly getting a fingertip to the ball to allow for a goal line clearance.
Town were defending deep and City had to stay patient, Phoebe Baker and Watkins combined to set up Pengelly, her fierce effort once again bringing out the best from McGrogan, as she tipped the shot over the bar. Moments later Watkins broke into the penalty area to force a vital interception, Taylor’s header from the resulting corner over the bar.
With the half concluding, City found the breakthrough their play had deserved. Emily Toogood beat the defender with a drop of the shoulder, sending in a low cross for Pengelly to guide into the bottom corner. The City number nine nearly doubled the lead moments later, a succession of crosses saw the ball drop for the chance, Pengelly drilled it low, only to be denied by McGrogan once more. A dominant half from the Grecians, but only the one goal advantage at the break.
The City right side had been the source of most of the attacking threat, and it was that side that combined to double the advantage early in the second half. The one on one opportunity was well worked for Mollie Taylor, she drove towards the Town goal, chopping the ball onto her right foot and drilling home at the near post. Within minutes of Taylor’s goal, she combined with Katie Grigg to deliver a cross for Sarah Stacey, the forward unable to divert the ball goalward. Grigg, in arguably her best City performance as the wing back continues to grow in confidence, sent in another cross towards Stacey, but again the opportunity did not have enough contact to threaten the Swindon goal as the glanced header went wide of the target.
Abbie Britton and Aaron Wakley rang the changes as the half progressed, protecting those returning from injury and offering a chance to impress for those within the squad. It was one of those substitutes that nearly clinched the game, Jess Sandland drove between two defenders with excellent footwork before a fierce strike at goal was kept out by McGrogan at her near post. The Swindon keeper was having an impressive afternoon, this save the best of the bunch.
With City in control, the game looked to be petering out, but Town had other ideas. Their first corner of the afternoon was sent towards the City goal and, as players challenged, the Referee spotted a handball and awarded a penalty. The spot kick was converted by Victoria Taylor and the game was back on.
Rather than become hesitant, the home side responded with a clinical five minute spell. Taylor, who was now rampant on the right side, bullied her way past the defender before sending in a low cross, Stacey controlled and shot on the turn to put City back in control. Minutes later the points were sealed, more persistent attacking intent on the Grecians right and, as the cross dropped to Zoe Watkins, she hit a stunning volley into the top corner.
Venue changes, kick off time changes, it had taken a lot of hard work to get this game on, but the Grecians Management will be delighted with the outcome. An important three points, after a disappointing break forced by the weather, City will be hoping this is the start of a long winning run. With the team needing to play catch up, the visit of fourth placed Southampton Women’s FC next weekend will be another must win if the team are to force their way into the Title picture come April.