Exeter City Women staged another stunning comeback, this time to pick up their first three points on the road with a win at Southampton Women’s FC.
Sarah Stacey's 92nd minute goal secured the points in a tightly-fought battle on the south coast, with Connie Pengelly and Emily Toogood also finding the net.
Bow Jackson skipped past a defensive challenge to force an early City corner, Emily Toogood’s near post cross nearly evading everyone and creeping in. The home side hit back by putting pressure on the Grecians back line, Rachel Okoro, Sian Wylie, and Britt Jeal playing a high attacking formation and unsettling City. Emily Toogood hit from distance, only to see the effort drift narrowly wide before Southampton were to take the game's first clear chance.
City failed to deal with a long free kick into the box and, as the ball bounced around, Okoro was in the right place to slot home. Sarah Stacey responded with a header on target, whilst Mollie Taylor headed over from a Toogood corner. Abbie Britton and Aaron Wakley’s side were struggling to find tempo in their passing and a set piece was looking the most likely way back into the game.
Abbi Bond had to be at her best to claw away two excellent crosses, before a shot was blocked at the near post by Phoebe Baker. Manfy Sharpe was replaced after suffering an injury, as another shot from Southampton brought the end to a half that the Grecians had been second best in.
City had produced a rousing fight back against St Austell on Wednesday evening and, after an early Southampton shot had stung the palms of Bond, a route back into this game began to now look more likely. A looping Taylor header was held by home goalkeeper Sara Luce before a rasping free kick from Connie Pengelly thumped the underside of the crossbar.
Just when the Grecians looked set to force an equaliser, Aaron Smith’s team had a glorious chance to extend the lead. A break down the home side’s left saw a low cross fall to the feet of Sian Wylie and only a brilliant block from the legs of Bond kept the shot out.
It was a chance that Southampton would soon rue, Becky Dandridge’s quick pass found Connie Pengelly and, on a memorable weekend for Exeter City Number Nine’s, she thumped a left-footed effort into the top corner of the net.
Dandridge had been unusually quiet in the first half, but now she was everywhere. A direct run into the Southampton penalty area caused problems, her low cross evading both keeper and defender and finding the boot of Toogood to give City the lead.
Rarely a dull moment when these sides meet, the scores were soon level again. A pinpoint delivery from the latest corner was strongly met by Lucy Mear and both teams were now set to battle for the lead.
Zoe Watkins’ audacious lob dropped narrowly wide, before Bond was called upon to aid the City defence from a barrage of corners. Former Grecian Hope Suominen wrestled clear of the City defence before Jaydee Seaman made a big tackle to prevent the shot, the referee called back play for an earlier foul, Shannon Sievwright’s striking her free kick into Bond’s carefully constructed wall.
As was the case on Wednesday, a flat first half from the Grecians front line had been replaced by a far more productive second half. With such a talented attacking pairing, the game felt like it would provide an opportunity for them to win it and so was the case as the clock ticked over ninety minutes. Seaman’s clearance into the Southampton back line was sliced into the air and, as the ball dropped, Stacey reacted quickest to steady herself and slip a shot beyond the advancing Luce for a late winner.
A well contested battle and one City will be delighted to have picked up three points from. The league is starting to take shape and, at first glance, looks set to be highly competitive. There will be many more battles ahead for the Grecians to negotiate, however, the spirit to comeback was again evident at Miller Park and that can only be a good habit to have.