A record crowd, three vital league points, six goals, a fourth consecutive clean sheet and title rivals dropping points. Sunday could not have gone much better for Exeter City Women as they dispatched of Portishead Town with a confident performance at St James Park.
As the 2936 in attendance took to their seats, Emily Toogood produced a moment of magic to get everyone back to their feet within three minutes. Ishbel Zuurmond looked to weave her way past the Portishead defence before being tripped twenty-five yards from goal. Toogood has developed a reputation for scoring the spectacular and her arrowed shot into the top corner is perhaps the best of this season's impressive bunch.
City nearly had two moments later, Phoebe Baker’s corner thumping the face of the crossbar before Chloe Gilroy's follow up was cleared off the line. Portishead were under significant early pressure but came close to levelling with their first attack. Ellie Strippel, scorer and of a stunning long range free kick on the two sides previous meeting, forced Abbi Bond into a tip over the crossbar from a driven set piece. Bond was then called into action from the resulting corner as she palmed the corner onto the crossbar as the City defence bravely blocked the follow up.
Toogood’s ability to arrow passes into the heart of opposition defense has been a theme of the Grecians season, her pass caused confusion between Goalkeeper Chloe Fensome and her defender, allowing Sarah Stacey the simplest of tap ins.
Jenna Markham shot narrowly wide, Stacey forced Fensome into a low save and Toogood’s corner was headed off the line as City sensed the momentum was with them to kill the contest early. A perceived foul on Fensome prevented Stacey from adding her second goal, before the linesman’s flag prevented another Stacey goal as she headed in after Fensome had palmed away a Manfy Sharpe long range effort.
Baker and Toogood were darting in their corner kicks under Fensome’s crossbar and the feeling was that the pressure would eventually lead to further City goals. Baker’s latest delivery was weighted perfectly for Mollie Taylor to attack and her header flew into the net for a three-goal lead.
Taylor came close to adding her second, firing a shot wide after a neat combination with Markham. However, with one goal scored and two disallowed, it seemed unlikely Stacey would be out of the headlines for long. Zoe Watkin’s low free kick was recycled by Ishbel Zuurmond and her low cross was tapped in by Stacey to send the Grecians in with a four-goal lead at half time.
Stacey is currently the leading scorer in the division and her versatility in scoring a variety of goals has established her as one of the best at tier three level. Markham’s header onto the post from another Toogood cross dropped for the City forward and she claimed another from close range with four minutes of the second half played. A fourth hat trick in eight games.
Phoebe Tate made two outstanding blocks from City attempts at goal as she fought bravely to keep the score down for her side, but it was an outstanding passage of play that made it six. Ishbel Zuurmond, relishing the spaces beginning to open up, darted past challenges before playing an incisive pass to Jess Sandland. The youngster took one touch before arrowing the ball into the back of the net.
An excellent low save from Fensome kept Toogood from adding to her early goal. Abbie Britton and Aaron Wakley ringing the changes as the half went on, sixteen-year-olds Milly Klinkenberg and Matilda Franchi rewarded for their development with a St James Park moment.
The Grecians now have a free weekend before heading to Swindon for their final away fixture of the campaign. Four games to go and a six-point lead at that top, Cardiff City Ladies’ two games in hand will likely see that gap come down to no more than goal difference as the finale approaches. Yesterday’s occasion will live long in the memory, but City will hope that it is the precursor to an even bigger celebration at the end of April.