On a wet Sunday afternoon, Exeter City produced a fantastic team performance to beat National League Premier side Cardiff City Ladies by four goals to three.
With this the final preparation for the Devon County Cup Final against Plymouth Argyle, the higher league opponents from South Wales offered the perfect rehersal for such an important fixture. City Manager’s Abbie Britton and Aaron Wakley chose to rotate the squad throughout the afternoon, offering opportunity to several players to stake their claim for the May 30 showpiece.
In the driving rain, both sides began by trying to impose their passing game. Meg Lightfoot saw her pass cut out by the visitor’s attack, but she was quickly back on her line to palm away the resulting shot. The City keeper was again called upon as Cardiff broke clear, Lightfoot this time brilliantly tipping the ball over the crossbar. Whilst the pace of the visitor’s forward line was a constant threat, City were countering well with Meg Robinson and Mia Preston tirelessly running the channels for their team. Anthea Kaptein broke from midfield and her cut back was met by a fierce strike from Preston, O’Sullivan in the Cardiff goal claiming the ball at head height.
The home side were starting to gain some control in midfield and with it came the opening goal, Emily Toogood found space after a neat interchange of passing and her cross was only half cleared, Jess Sandland drilled the loose ball into the bottom corner and City had the lead. Sandland, making her first start, netted for the second time in three games and is already looking a huge prospect at only sixteen years old.
However, on the verge of half time, the visitors found a response. City were caught playing out from defence and the interception fell to Morgan Rogers, the forward raced clear on goal and this time there was nothing the impressive Lightfoot could do to keep the ball out. All square at Half Time.
A triple substitution as the start of the second half saw some familiar faces enter the game, Connie Pengelly, Zoe Watkins and Esme Kilburn-Thompson all getting some minutes.
The visitors would create the first chance of the half, a misjudged clearance was met with a cross towards the back post, but it was just beyond the onrushing Cardiff attacker. Emily Toogood’s pass found the the willing run of Connie Pengelly, whose blocked run at goal forced City’s first corner of the game. After the visitors had failed to clear the initial delivery, Toogood struck a volley across goal that was turned in by Mollie Taylor to restore the lead.
City were now on top; the midfield tempo had been increased and Phoebe Baker was controlling the game with her customary class. After patient link up play with Mia Preston led to space for a shot, Baker drilled the ball over O’Sullivan to extend the lead. Mia Preston, who had travelled down from her England College’s Trial in Leicestershire that morning to play a part in the game, was now increasing her involvement. The young forward interchanged passes with Esme Kilburn-Thompson before seeing her strike from distance palmed away by the busy O’Sullivan.
Kilburn-Thompson was finding space in the visitor’s penalty area and, after more good pressing from the City midfield, her run was found by Zoe Watkins. The young forward composed herself before slotting home the Grecian’s fourth.
Prior to a host of City substitutions, Kilburn-Thompson came close to her second of the game, this time O’Sullivan standing up well to the driven effort.
Cardiff are not a National League Premier Division side without reason, and they were to finish the game strongly. A well worked short corner routine saw a curling cross from Morgan Rogers met by the head of Shannon Greenaway. It was a moment of high quality that was to set up a nervy finish.
As had been the case in the Devon County Cup semi-final, one late goal became two. Rogers, a Welsh International, was showing her class in an attempt to draw her side back into the game. Her strike from distance looped towards goal and struck the underside of the crossbar to give the Cardiff forward her second of the game and her teama third. Both sides were now tiring after a hard fought, high tempo encounter, but it was to be Exeter City who held on, as they restricted the visitors to only a couple of attempts from distance as they sought an equaliser.
Since the return from Lockdown the Grecian’s level of performance has seen a steady upward trend, this victory perhaps the most pleasing. Faced with higher level opposition, there was little between the sides. Abbie Britton and Aaron Wakley will now surely be looking for a repeat in this level of performance when we all head to Coach Road for the Devon County Cup Final on May 30.