Grecian Ladies lift silverware in Newton AbbotExeter City Ladies defeated their local rivals Torquay United 4-2 in the final of the SWH Ltd Devon Women’s Senior Cup on Thursday evening at the Coach Road stadium in Newton Abbot.
A tight first period looked to finish goalless, until Kirsty Caunter put the Grecians ahead in first-half stoppage time. Corinne Potts double the advantage shortly after the interval, before Tash Knapman rounded off a neat move to give the Grecians a three-goal cushion.
Gulls sub Niamh Farrell reduced the deficit from close-range, but the girls in red and white held off any further damage. Knapman’s second – her final goal before her transfer to Yeovil Town to compete in the FA Women's Super League 2 – followed to reopen the three-goal advantage.
A terrific free-kick from Sian Chapman with two minutes remaining meant that Torquay had the last say on the scoreboard, but it was the Grecians who ultimately would be taking the silverware back up the A380 to Exeter.
City arrived in Newton Abbot to contest the County Cup final for the fifth straight season – though they had only won one of the previous four, which came in a dramatic extra-time victory against Plymouth Argyle two years ago.
The final game of the season represented another chance for Exeter Ladies to lift a trophy – they had narrowly missed out on the Premier League South West Division 1 title the previous weekend, coming second to champions Forest Green Rovers Ladies on goal-difference.
And they could have opened an early lead when Leah Brooks shot from outside the area, and Vicky Barter wasn’t quite able to redirect the effort on target with an improvised header.
Barter then hit the frame of the goal when she was played down the right channel, and a cross-cum-shot rebounded clear off Beth Marshall’s near post.
Courtney Butt was twice denied the opener within quick succession – firstly a dangerous free-kick wasn’t cleared effectively which allowed the midfielder to shoot, only for her effort to be hacked off the line. Shortly after it was another dead ball from Knapman, this time from a corner, which caused havoc and Butt’s effort was tipped over the bar by stopper Marshall.
Exeter were enjoying most of the chances, and centre-halves Catherine Wright and Sophie Russell were dealing with anything launched their way. However there was little room for complacency as the Gulls had a threat on the break.
Firstly Alex Sheppard found room on the right to drive goalwards, but she miscued her shot and fired beyond the near post. Then Chapman managed to wriggle clear in the area, but the angle was acute and Carley Barber saved with her feet.
Knapman, who had earlier been denied with a sprawling save by the goalkeeper, was almost released through one-on-one – it needed a good turn of pace by centre-half Adelle Rogers to prevent her getting a shot away.
Once again Barter was denied by the woodwork – after she had won a free-kick in the wide-right position, Knapman's low set-piece bisected the defence but Barter, on the stretch, could only divert against the crossbar this time.
However the breakthrough finally came with the referee preparing to sound his whistle for the break.
Marika Ghiglia’s quick throw was taken smartly by Lola Garcia Sanchez – who was later named player of the match – and she cleverly rolled her marker Charlotte Maling on the flank to get to the left byline. Her low, drilled cross was right into the path of the onrushing Caunter, who fired home from six yards.
Half-time: Exeter City Ladies 1 Torquay United Ladies 0
City almost doubled the lead within minutes of the restart – early pressure saw the ball break for Brooks high upfield, and she picked out Knapman – the striker showed quick feet to turn, step inside to work an angle, but the effort was into the body of the ‘keeper.
The second followed just seven minutes after the restart though – Knapman’s dangerous cross from the right forced a corner, and from the resultant flag-kick, the ball ultimately broke for right-back Potts who found space to loop a fine effort inside the far post.
Garcia Sanchez was again causing problems down the left, and a heavy tackle from Maling allowed captain Wright to deliver a free-kick from deep against the touchline. The delivery had the goalkeeper floundering as it cannoned back into the play off the crossbar.
Torquay were determined to muster a fightback and Ghiglia needed to get a telling touch on the ball as Sheppard threatened to break clear down the right. She put the ball behind for a corner and a dangerous delivery from Louisa Stantiford-Crook fell kindly for Sheppard, whose shot was save and held by Barber.
Exeter extended the lead at the midpoint of the second half – Garcia Sanchez was released down the left and bided her time before spotting the run of Knapman, who was peeling off towards the back post. A fine left-footed centre was met with an equally well-taken volley by the striker for Exeter’s third.
Sophie Simpson was introduced with 20 minutes to go in place of Barter, who had given the Torquay defence a difficult evening with some tricky play on the right.
However the deficit was cut soon when a left-flank corner was touched on, allowing Gulls substitute Farrell to stab home.
The goal prompted a nervy few minutes for the Exeter side, as Torquay had the wind in their sails and the backing of many of the 325-strong crowd, and hopes of a fightback were on.
But Exeter staved off the threat and Knapman twice went close to scoring her second – the first with a spectacular half-volley which was misdirected after showing good agility to take the ball down, and then she was slipped in by Garcia Sanchez but arguably had too much time and ultimately struck down the throat of the goalkeeper.
In the final ten minutes, defender Carla Staddon and striker Chloe Williams came on in place of Butt and Russell, as manager Gareth Young added fresh legs to the line-up.
It was fast becoming something of a duel between striker Knapman and her foil, Gulls goalkeeper Marshall, who had made a number of critical saves to keep out the City striker. And eventually persistence paid as the Grecians forward got the better of the custodian for a second time – a short corner routine on the left saw Knapman work a shooting angle, and she hammered inside the near post from the edge of the area for Exeter’s fourth.
Torquay gained what proved to be a late consolation goal – after Potts was judged to have fouled United substitute Lorna Thompson outside the area, Chapman bent a perfectly-struck free-kick over the wall and into the postage-stamp, with the hand of Barber unable to deny her the goal.
It came too late for the Gulls – Natalie Warman had a bit of an opening down the left but she cut across her shot as the final chance came and went.
And, after three added minutes, the referee called time on a lively and well-contested affair, meaning that it was time for the champagne corks to pop as Exeter City Ladies were crowned Devon Women’s Senior Cup champions for 2015.
Full-time: Exeter City Ladies 4 Torquay United Ladies 2
Exeter City Ladies: Barber; Potts, Russell (Staddon 84), Wright, Ghiglia; Brooks, Butt (Williams 84), Caunter; Barter (Simpson 71), Garcia Sanchez, Knapman.
Unused subs: Coupe, Stone.
Goals: Caunter (45), Potts (52), Knapman (67, 85).
Torquay United Ladies: Marshall; Maling, Rogers, Armstrong (Thompson 83), Smith; Sheppard (Farrell 69), M.Warman, Stantiford-Crook (Evans 90), Hannaford, N.Warman; Chapman.
Unused subs: Bond, Elliott.
Goals: Farrell (75), Chapman (88).
Referee: Alan Webster