Exeter City Women made the perfect start to the new season with a commanding 5-1 victory at Bridgwater United on Sunday afternoon, Zoe Watkins hitting four goals as the Grecians picked up their first three points of 2023/24.
Abbie Britton and Aaron Wakley will have been hoping for a fast start from their team and they certainly got it. Zoe Cunningham’s clipped pass was driven towards goal by Sarah Stacey before United Goalkeeper Ellie Mitchell did well to block the initial shot, but Watkins was in the right place to bundle home the rebound with just 22 seconds on the clock.
Ishbel Zuurmond twisted and turned her marker before setting Cunningham to drive into the penalty area, the midfielder cutting inside and striking a low shot towards goal. Zuurmond would go close again moments later, striking a shot onto the face of Mitchell’s crossbar after more intricate footwork created the opening.
Cunningham was replaced after ten minutes, a knock to her ankle not risked any further so early into the season.
Zuurmond was the key to City’s best moments, her link play with Watkins drawing a save from Mitchell before Beth Ireland, Cunningham’s replacement, struck a fierce effort straight into the hands of the busy United stopper.
Jenna Markham had two efforts on goal blocked, Ireland then splitting the home defence with a pass to Mollie Taylor, her cross just evading the Grecians attack as City kept up the pressure.
When the second goal came it was no surprise as to who the architect for it was, Zuurmond creating the space to lay the pass back to Watkins, the City midfielder hitting a stunning shot into the far corner from the edge of the penalty area.
For all the Grecians pressure, United had a great opportunity to half the deficit before the break. The City defence failed to clear the pass over the top and Beth Everson steered her shot narrowly wide of Abbi Bond’s goal when clean through on goal. A confident half but the warning issued that this game was far from over.
A change at half time as Beth Ireland nursed a knock, Amber Pollock the third debutant of the day as she added her pace and energy to the Grecians attack.
Manfy Sharpe eased past the United defence before striking just wide of Mitchell’s upright as City started where they left off, but this was to be Watkins’ day.
Sarah Stacey drilled in a perfect cross to her strike partner, Markham’s header well saved by Mitchell, but Watkins was again in the right place to tap home and complete an opening day hat trick and her first in City colours.
Three soon became four, Markham getting the goal her play deserved on return to her former club. After the ball broke to the forward on the edge of the penalty area, she struck a shot that looped over Mitchell and into the net as City sealed the points just past the hour mark.
Pollock was causing the home defence problems with her express pace and creativity, her low cross was cut out for a corner with Stacey scooping the resulting set piece over the bar after Taylor had cut the ball back into the danger area.
Markham volleyed narrowly over the crossbar from a measured Taylor cross, before City were forced to end the game with ten players, Bow Jackson taking a kick to the back and not taking the chance of any further injury.
Undeterred by the numerical advantage City would hit five. Sarah Stacey drove in on goal, her shot saved by Mitchell but rebounding onto a Bridgwater hand and the linesman flagged for the spot kick. With three goals already, it was only ever going to be Watkins and she slotted in her fourth and the Grecians fifth.
City, who had been impressive playing from defensive positions all game then took one risk too many. Bond and Jaydee Seaman getting in a communication muddle and leaving United forward Holly Tappin with a, well, tap in.
A strong start for Britton and Wakley’s team as they eased to three points with a confident performance, showing particular control in the first half of the contest. Attention now turns to the League Cup and a home derby against Plymouth Argyle at the Exwick Sports Hub on Sunday afternoon.