Exeter City Women finished 2021 in fine style, making it nine wins in succession, as they overcame Southampton Women’s on Sunday to book a place in the FA Cup Fourth Round for only the third time in the Club’s history.
The Hampshire side began the day top of the Grecians’ National League Division One and, following a 2-2 draw earlier in the season, looked set to be a formidable opposition standing in the way of Abbie Britton and Aaron Wakley’s in form Reds.
The game began with both teams showing a high intensity and desire to create that all important opening goal. Britt Jeal was the beneficiary of a ball behind the City backline, her shot not having sufficient power to trouble Abbi Bond. The response to that chance was quick, Sarah Stacey turning on the edge of the penalty area and firing into the arms of home keeper Ellie Parker, as both teams looked to dominate.
With the game a midfield battle in the initial stages, clear cut chances had been at a premium, but City would create two in quick succession. Mollie Taylor’s header from a corner was brilliantly stopped on the goal line before Parker reacted quickest to prevent the loose ball being converted. Sarah Stacey then beat Parker to a through ball but her looping header was again cleared from the Southampton Women’s goal line.
In an absorbing opening half hour, the home side would respond well to the City threat. A long range free kick was narrowly wide, before good defensive play from Manfy Sharpe prevented a goalscoring chance, as she cleared a dangerous low cross. With City holding strong defensively, it would be a slick counterattack that brought the opening goal. Sarah Stacey turned cleverly on the halfway line before playing in Mollie Taylor on the Grecians’ right, her cross was swept home by Connie Pengelly for an incisive opener.
The home side fought hard to find a reply, yet the defensive trio of Seaman, Sharpe and Sandland were preventing any clear openings as half time approached. With time running down, City would find a big moment just before the break. Emily Toogood’s long clearance was taken under control by Pengelly and her left foot shot was drilled into the bottom corner past Parker. Two outstanding finishes from the eighteen year old, who continues to get better and better this season.
The next goal was always going to prove crucial as the second half began, and it would be City to get it with the first attack. Steph Beck’s run into the penalty area was blocked for a corner and Pengelly’s outswinger was brilliantly met by the leap of Sarah Stacey, her glancing header flying over Parker for a three goal lead. The Grecians’ front two have scored fifteen of the team’s last seventeen goals, an incredible run of form.
Jaydee Seaman’s header off the line prevented an instant response, whilst Pengelly was close to another hat trick, her shot smacking the cross bar, after clever foot work had made the chance. Southampton were now throwing everything at City, with Sharpe and Rachel Okoro having their own battle one side and Taylor and Kiera Heslam equally committed on the other side.
The best chance for the home side came with ten to play, Sian Wylie rounding Abbi Bond, before her low cross was blocked heroically on the line by Emily Toogood. The pride City now take in keeping clean sheets was evident as the game came to a close, this was the team’s fourth in five games. The Grecians’ defence were well supported by a tireless midfield effort, Steph Beck and Zoe Watkins in tandem with the relentless Phoebe Baker, who added another fantastic performance to a list of fantastic performances this season.
Jubilant scenes met the final whistle, the team celebrating with a strong vocal travelling support. The fact that more supporters travelled to Hampshire a week before Christmas then previously attended home games says everything about how this team are engaging with a new fan base.
An away tie with West Bromwich Albion awaits in the Fourth Round, a tie scheduled for January 30th, and with it the chance to reach the FA Cup Round Five for the first time in the Club’s history.