Exeter City Women suffered a rare Exwick Hub defeat as Plymouth Argyle progressed into the League Cup first round, the Grecians now competing in the Plate competition when the first-round draws are made.
The two teams had experienced very different opening days, City confidently dispatching Bridgwater United whilst the Pilgrims were humbled at Coach Road by Billericay. Coupled with a defeat to the Grecians in the County Cup Final, it was clear from the start that the Greens were fully focused on halting the City momentum.
Lacking any real quality, the opening moments were competitive but scrappy. Charlotte Whitmore and Tash Knapman both directing shots goalwards without causing either Goalkeeper too much concern. It would take twenty minutes of play before a clear chance would come, Mollie Taylor doing well to initially hold up Ellie Sara after she had burst forward, Sara’s cushioned lay off leading to a strike at goal that Bond was down well to palm away.
A strong block on the six-yard line prevented Bow Jackson from testing Jasmine Read in the Argyle goal as City pieced together their first passage of play, but it was a game that was either going to need a mistake or moment of brilliance to break the deadlock. For the visitors, it would be the latter. As the ball broke on the edge of the penalty area, Sara struck a volley goalwards and with the swerve of the ball it looped over Bond for a stunning opener.
Tash Knapman volleyed over on the stretch as City looked to respond, but all too often possession was gifted to the opposition as the Grecians looked uncharacteristically lethargic. No doubt Abbie Britton and Aaron Wakley were hoping for half time to regenerate their team, but a crucial blow was delivered just before the break. City cleared an Argyle corner and as Taylor controlled the ball to hook away the referee deemed it to have hit her hand. The penalty to the Greens was emphatically dispatched by Sara for her second.
City had chosen to rest some bodies ahead of a busy league schedule in the coming weeks and were now left to turn to the bench in a fight to get back into the contest.
Jenna Markham and Amber Pollock came into the game at the break, but within a minute from kick off the game had slipped further away. City missed the opportunity to return a lofted pass to Bond, leaving Whitmore to run through on goal, her initial shot was saved before Bow Jackson was deemed to have fouled the forward and it was a chance for Sara to complete her hat trick. She calmly rolled the ball in for three.
Within minutes City would have a lifeline, Cunningham’s pass was precise to meet the run of Ishbel Zuurmond and she poked the ball beyond Read to narrow the deficit. After a stale half, the Grecians were finally finding their rhythm with Pollock and Markham’s pace bringing the Pilgrims’ defence more and more into game.
With City on top, the self-destruct button was pressed. The home side and matchday officials were growing increasingly unhappy with each other and, after both the City Manager’s had been cautioned, it was a sin bin for Jaydee Seaman and the Grecians were down to ten players for ten minutes.
With that early second half momentum ebbing away and a gap in the City defence, Argyle seized their moment. Sara twisting cleverly before putting Whitmore in on goal as she slotted home and ended the tie as a contest.
City tried to find a way back, Markham heading over a Pollock cross, but the visitors held firm to take a deserved win. From the off, there was no doubt the commitment the Greens showed towards their team and manager.
In terms of the priority of this competition for the Grecians, if they were going to have a bad day, this was not the worst day to have it on.
A similar showing at Cardiff City Ladies last season was ultimately decisive in the league title race and City will know that they simply must be better for the visit of Swindon Town on Sunday.
With consideration of the players that have moved between the two clubs over the summer, this was probably one both teams are happy to get out the way and move on from. The fight to be Devon’s top team will no doubt be reconvened at some point over the course of the 2023/24 season.