Another dramatic afternoon at the Sports Hub saw Exeter City again come from behind, this time to grab a 2-2 draw with Larkhall Athletic, in a game that saw the Grecians finish with ten players.
City started brightly, passing the ball around neatly on a rare sunny Sunday afternoon. However, it was to be the visitors who took the lead with their first attack. A pass over the top of the Home defence was neatly controlled by Rhian Robbins and the inform striker made no mistake in racing clear and finishing past Dumper. Phoebe Baker attempted to find an instant response; although her long range effort along the ground was palmed wide by Larkhall keeper Footner in what was to prove the first save of many.
Whilst City were enjoying the vast majority of possession, the threat of the visitors was clear. The pace of Robbins was a real concern and she should have made it two, running clear and rounding Dumper before hitting the side netting from a narrow angle. The Grecians again responded well, Anthea Kaptein broke in to the penalty area and struck the side netting, before Emily Toogood hit a shot in to the hands of Footner. Kaptein and Baker were now trying to up the tempo for the home side and the latter went close when she forced Footner in to another good low save. City were dominating possession but the final ball was not easy to come by and, when it did, they were finding a visiting keeper in excellent form.
With patience starting to be tested at not finding a way through, City paid the price. A free kick was put over the head of Charley Prouse and, as Dumper came out to clear, the ball was slotted home for a two goal advantage. The deficit was almost immediately halved on the stroke of half time, Zoe Watkins won the ball from an under hit goal kick yet her two efforts towards goal lacked the power to beat Footner.
Returning from University, Georgie Barbour Gresham was making her first appearance for City and she replaced Prouse at the interval. The Second Half would start much like the first, the home side dominant on the ball and yet not quite being able to convert the opportunities. A quick throw saw Anthea Kaptein send in a cross that was just headed wide by Mia Preston, whilst Emily Toogood’s low cross was volleyed narrowly wide by Steph Beck. Abi Footner was already proving a difficult opponent to beat in the Larks goal, her save just before the hour mark quite remarkable. Kaptein hit a shot from the edge of the penalty area that looked destined for the top corner, Footner somehow managed to get hands to it and get the ball over the crossbar, it was starting to look like it might be one of those days.
A half time move to a back three was seeing Toogood in more advanced areas and she won a corner to set up a goal that City’s pressure deserved. A deep cross by Kaptein found Steph Beck and as her header hit the foot of the post, Emily Toogood volleyed home for her fifth of the season. Clive Watts and his coaching team then rang the changes, Esme Kilburn Thompson and Phoebe Durkin came on to freshen up the side, and Durkin’s wonderful curling cross was met by Kaptein who just failed to get the connection on it to divert it towards goal.
With City camped in the Larkhall half, it was to be the failure to deal with the long ball that again changed the momentum of the game. Robbins, who was defending from the front with her powerful running, broke clear again and this time Georgie Barbour Gresham pulled her down. A clear Red card and City had it all to do with one player less.
One thing this team do not do is give up, time and time again they have come from behind this season, and it was to be a successive week of late drama. Phoebe Baker, who once again dominated the midfield with her tenacity, skipped past a tiring Larkhall midfield and unleashed a shot straight in to the top corner. For an afternoon of persistent, patient football against a resilient and well organise visiting defence, it was no more than City deserved.
The Final whistle saw the end of Football for what has been a turbulent 2020. The Grecians are currently a team that are a fine margin away from being an excellent side, improvements in both penalty areas in the second half of the season will surely see them climb the National League Table, few teams are failed to be impressed by the quality of City’s play. With more Lockdown restrictions on the horizon, and the consequences for grassroots football that could mean, it is hard to say what 2021 will bring. However, after two gruelling encounters, the City squad will be looking forward to a Christmas break and a hopeful return to action in January.