Exeter City Women ended the year with an important victory as they overcame Larkhall Athletic to go level on points with second placed AFC Bournemouth in the National League.
Kick off was delayed for an hour after the visitors had encountered standstill traffic on their way to Devon, with driving rain and a swirling wind it was all set to be an attritional afternoon. Larkhall have seen their season turn for the positive in recent weeks and arrived with three wins from their last four games, and it was a confident start from the visitors, City failing to create opportunities despite seeing plenty of possession.
Mollie Taylor struck from distance before Chloe Gilroy turned a cross goalward, Erin Foley in the Larks goal palming the effort away. Jenna Markham chased a hopeful ball over the top of the defence, her quick turn forcing a low block as City began to break through the solidity of the visitor's backline.
A shot flashed wide from the visitors at one end and Markham continued to pose the main threat for City at the other, however, as the break loomed, a scrappy game in unpleasant conditions was doing little to cheer the patient crowd.
Larkhall had been resilient in the first forty-five, but were yet to test City stopper Abbi Bond. That changed within seconds of the second half as a low drive was blocked by Bond at her near post. City responded immediately, hesitation in the Larkhall defence was pounced on by the ever-willing run of Markham and her low cross was slid in past Foley by Chloe Gilory.
That goal seemed to galvanise City, with Markham sprinting clear again moments later, Foley with a fantastic save to deny the City forward. Phoebe Baker has the ability to make the Grecians tick like no one else in the City ranks, and her strong run and perfectly weighted pass gave Markham the chance to finally win her dual with Foley as she slotted home a City second goal. It was Abbie Britton and Aaron Wakley’s team’s one hundredth goal of 2022.
Sarah Stacey drove a shot narrowly wide from the edge of the penalty area whilst Mollie Taylor saw a close-range header clear the crossbar. Stacey was denied by a brilliant defensive challenge when she looked set to extend the City lead, the tackle taking the ball away as she looked set to fire past Foley.
Larkhall worked tirelessly throughout and offered more of an attacking threat in the second half, Chloe Snook at the heart of most of the Lark's threat, but they could not find the final pass to offer a chance that would trouble Bond. Milly Klinkenberg made her debut at sixteen years and one day, the talented young forward nearly adding a third goal late on, brave goalkeeping from Foley once more denying Grecians. Markham thumped the crossbar with a long-range effort as City finished strongly, but the score would remain at two.
An insipid first half, but a far more productive second period as City ended the year with the three points required. The Grecians start the new year with home games against MoneyFields and Southampton Women’s FC, whilst also travelling to Selsey. After that, it’s Cardiff City at the Hub. 2023 will begin with the hardest few weeks of the season and Abbie Britton and Aaron Wakley will be confident their side will be up to that challenge.