Exeter City Women reclaimed the Premier Devon County Cup on Friday night with a penalty shootout victory over Plymouth Argyle, following a 1-1 draw at Coach Road.
The tie was taken to penalties after a late Rosie Train penalty cancelled out Jenna Markham’s second half header, with the Grecians 4-3 win the spot reddeming themselves for last year's defeat in the same manner to Torquay United.
The game started with all the tempo you would expect from a final between two Westcountry rivals, Manfy Sharpe making an excellent block from a driven Argyle shot, before Mollie Taylor pounced on a poor goalkeeping clearance to float an effort onto the face of the Plymouth crossbar.
City were in again moments later, Taylor’s clipped pass finding the run of Sarah Stacey, but her effort was hit over under pressure. Markham’s strike from the edge of the penalty area led to shouts of handball from the stands, before her header found Stacey at the back post, the forward just failing to get the required contact to beat Argyle stopper Jasmine Read.
The Greens broke to bring another strong defensive block from the Grecians, Jess Sandland’s corner a minute later than causing a scramble in the box with City somehow failing to get the connection to force the ball over the line. Markham and Ishbel Zuurmond then linked decisively, with the former playing an exquisite pass to Stacey who struck straight at Reed.
The Grecians were well on top, playing with a high tempo and penning the Greens in, Taylor’s header from the latest Sandland set piece hitting an Argyle body on the line from point blank range. Taylor forced Read into a fine low save as she shot from distance, with Zuurmond then hitting the crossbar with a looping header from Zoe Watkins’ free kick.
Stacey tested Reed once more as the half came to an end, City well on top, but frustrated to not be at least a goal in front.
The Grecians would not have to wait long for a breakthrough in the second half. Zuurmond strode forward, playing through Stacey on the right side of the penalty area and her cross was headed in by Markham. It was a lead the Grecians deserved.
With City tiring and a change in formation from Argyle Manager Ryan Perks, the Greens began to gain some territory in the game. The fluidity in which the runs of Zoe Cunningham and Charlotte Whitmore had been found in the first half may have gone, but the direct passes from defence into the heart of the Grecians backline were causing concern, especially given the arrival of talented substitute Amber Pollock.
As Exeter sat deep,trying to see off the threat, the Greens' greater territorial pressure was unable to provide an opportunity to test Abbi Bond in the Grecians goal as the clock ticked down. However, these finals have a way of materialising some late drama and so it proved. Just as in last season’s final, City’s opponent would be awarded a late penalty. A low ball into the box was kicked away by Bow Jackson at the same point as Pollock ducked her headed into the ball, a clear foul and Argyle had a lifeline. Rosie Train calmly beat Bond to take the tie to penalties.
Unsuccessful on that occasion maybe, but Bond has gained a reputation for saving penalties, none more so than against Plymouth, and she sprung to her left to deny the third Argyle spot kick. City missed their next and an unfortunate strike against the inside of the post gave Abbie Britton and Aaron Wakley’s side the advantage.
Successful kicks from Zoe Watkins, Steph Beck and Sarah Stacey had set up the moment for Mollie Taylor to win it. Never one to be fazed, the in-form defender struck down the middle of the goal to regain the Cup.
After losing a late goal and a penalty shootout in last season’s final, this was redemption for City. The disappointment of not taking advantage of their first half dominance and chances was the only downside to another strong performance. Trophy number one secured, City will now be hoping that Cardiff City drop points this week to set up the opportunity to lift a league title on Sunday afternoon.