Exeter City Women made it six consecutive wins, with six consecutive clean sheets, to extend their lead in the title race to nine points as the season reaches its conclusion with a superb 4-0 win away at Swindon Town.
The Grecians’ afternoon could not have begun in more dramatic circumstances, in form defender Emily Toogood twisting her foot in the impact of a late challenge within the first minute and playing no further part. Unsettled by the early injury and on a difficult surface, City struggled to get a foothold in the game. However, one of City’s biggest assets this season has been their prowess from set pieces and with the game scrappy and no patterns of play forthcoming, this looked the most likely source of success in the early stages.
Toogood has been masterly from dead ball situations this season, but her replacement, Jess Sandland, is equally accurate. Sandland’s first corner of the afternoon was headed narrowly wide by Ishbel Zuurmond to serve as a warning to the Swindon defence, and the next delivery would provide the breakthrough. Floated to the back post, Mollie Taylor’s initial volley was blocked on the line before she smashed in the rebound for the lead.
Links between Sarah Stacey, Zoe Watkins and Zuurmond were now starting to materialise, with Sandland’s latest corner hit over by Stacey from close range as the Grecians began to apply the pressure. With five minutes until the break, the lead would be extended by a familiar source. Sandland’s corner headed past Town Goalkeeper Emily Mcgrogan by City forward Jenna Markham to ease any nerves further.
Intelligent play from Phoebe Baker in her own penalty area saw her ease beyond a Swindon press, her pass found Stacey, who found Zuurmond, with the all-action midfielder surging past challenges before laying the ball for Sandland whose shot was blocked. Free flowing and fast on the counter, City were now finding their stride as the half time whistle blew.
If the move before the break was impressive, City bettered it early in the second period. Jaydee Seaman’s pass into Markham broke through the heart of the Swindon midfield allowing the forward to stride at the Town rearguard, Markham’s pass split the retreating defence to allow Stacey to shoot at goal, her effort smashing the crossbar and falling to safety.
The backline of Bow Jackson, Manfy Sharpe and Jaydee Seaman has been almost impenetrable in recent weeks, with not just clean sheets but a severe restriction on chances for the opposition. Annabelle Colston has been outstanding for Swindon this season, and her quite afternoon sprung to life with a lofted pass over the city defence and a chance on goal. However, not only do the Grecians have a strong back line, they also have an impressive Goalkeeper. Abbi Bond with a strong hand at her near post to deny Colston adding to her season’s tally.
Jenna Markham’s energy and willingness to apply pressure on opposition defences has been a key part of the City attack this season, her latest drive at the Town defence drew a late lunge from Jennifer Gray and her second booking had the home side down to ten. The Grecians were to take instant advantage, the resulting free kick from Sandland dropped to Zoe Watkins, who rolled an accurate effort into the bottom corner to seal the points.
The only thing missing from this comprehensive Exeter performance was a Sarah Stacey goal and that would arrive with four minutes remaining, the impressive Bow Jackson delivering a near post cross for the striker to nod past the onrushing McGrogan.
A large following from Devon were jubilant at full time, after last season’s heavy defeat at Fairford this was always going to be a tricky tie to negotiate and the Grecians comfortably passed their latest test. A nine-point gap over Cardiff City, with Abbie Britton and Aaron Wakley’s side only having two more home games to complete the season. A faultless pursuit with games in hand would see the title race go down to goal difference, with the Welsh side in the driving seat on that front, but should they drop any points in the next three weeks, it will be back in City’s hands.