Exeter City Women made it five league wins from five with a comfortable victory at Maidenhead United on Sunday afternoon, a game that saw Captain Manfy Sharpe make her 150th appearance for the Grecians.
On an irregularly hot October day City started in a hurry to secure the three points. Katie Grigg struck wide after a free-flowing move, before United Goalkeeper Kendra Clarke was at full stretch to turn away a Sarah Stacey effort. Amber Pollock drove to the byline and cut back for Zoe Watkins to direct her shot over the crossbar, Pollock then cutting inside to strike wide of the upright. Stacey volleyed over the crossbar from a Jess Sandland cross and with only eight minutes on the clock City really should have been well clear of the hosts.
With so many opportunities falling the Grecians way you had to feel that eventually the breakthrough would come, and it did on ten minutes. Pollock darted through the home defence and as she went to shoot was brought to ground for a penalty. Zoe Watkins stepped up and emphatically finished.
Manfy Sharpe just failed to connect with a back post corner before Bow Jackson’s neat turn led to a shot that flew narrowly over the crossbar. With Pollock down and feeling the effects of the penalty collision, Sharpe surged into the vacated space on the left side and her run led to Markham blocking Clarke’s clearance, the loose ball allowing the City Captain to calmly slot past the retreating Maidenhead defence and double the lead.
Markham and Stacey are an increasingly formidable duo and were not giving the home side any respite, both striking chances narrowly wide before Stacey’s latest effort was blocked for a corner. Sandland swung in the set piece and Mollie Taylor, on for Pollock, headed in the Grecians third.
City continued their pursuit of more goals as the half ended, playing some intricate and high-quality football as Ishbel Zuurmond found pockets of space to create chances for both herself and the forward line. Taylor had a big chance to add to her back post header collection on the whistle, but the effort dropped wide of the post.
The second half began much like the first, Markham again bursting through the Maidenhead defence, her effort was bravely blocked by Clarke, but Stacey was in the right place to slide in the rebound for a fourth.
The Grecians then paid the price for some sloppy defensive play, a lofted pass was directed on goal and comfortably dealt with by Bond but a late tackle from a City defender resulted in a clear penalty. Izzy Stockton beat Bond and the hosts had a goal back.
Markham won a corner with her boundless energy and Sharpe was in the right place to tap home from close range as the ball bounced around the penalty area from the set peice, her first brace for City.
The hosts reduced the scoreline again moments later, a deep swinging corner from Megan Halfacree beating everyone and dropping in at the back post.
Sharpe struck from distance as the hat trick looked on, Zoe Cunningham, with a bright appearance, playing a stunning pass to Markham who was denied by the impressive Clarke once more. Beth Ireland drove to the byline and cut back for another City chance, the United defence blocking the pass before Cunningham had two efforts on goal that drifted narrowly wide.
The final act would fall to Sharpe, a brilliant run from the halfway line as she tricked her way beyond defensive challenges before being brought down for a penalty. Putting the team’s success over personal achievement optimises Sharpe’s impact at Exeter City this past six years and she turned down the opportunity of a hat trick to allow regular penalty taker Zoe Watkins to hit the sixth.
A fine performance in which the Grecians produced some of their best football of the season in patches, relentlessly searching for goals in a strong display from all sixteen players. The only slight disappointment from Abbie Britton and Aaron Wakley will be that they did not score more with the chances created. A positive start to a busy week, with Portishead Town next up at the Hub on Wednesday evening. (7.45pm Kick Off)