Exeter City Women moved to the top of the National League Division One with a strong performance against Cardiff City Ladies,
It was the South Wales side’s first away league defeat of the season as the Grecians continue their strong start to 2023.
The game began with both sides competing strongly, the home side winning the majority of the loose ball. Bow Jackson’s deep cross was headed across goal by Jenna Markham, Ishbel Zuurmond’s resulting volley over the crossbar the game's first chance after ten minutes. Jackson failed to connect with a whipped Emily Toogood cross, before Cardiff Goalkeeper Laura O’Sullivan clawed away a Toogood corner from under her crossbar.
Zuurmond struck again from distance, whilst Markham touched the ball around O’Sullivan following a chipped ball over the Cardiff defence, but her touch was too heavy to send the ball goalwards before it went out of play. City were defensively confident and winning the battleground, but had failed to create that one clear chance. That would change four minutes before the break.
Zoe Watkins’ central free kick was headed back across goal by Mollie Taylor and after O’Sullivan’s save touched the ball away from Zuurmond, Emily Toogood tapped home from close range. Ahead at half time and deservedly so after an industrious forty-five.
Cardiff’s record this season has been nothing short of sensational and their response after a subdued first half was to be expected. Ruby Scahill ran clear of her marker to square for Grace Seren but, with the goal at her mercy, the connection was weak and Abbi Bond was able to gather the ball comfortably.
Markham raced away from the visitor's backline before falling in the penalty area, there looked clear contact on the Grecians forward but the referee waved play on. Emily Toogood nearly made it two moments later, a combination of O’Sullivan and the post keeping her fierce volley out.
Cardiff were beginning to commit more players forward and City endured their frustrations on the counter, getting in good positions but just failing to take care of the final pass when the moment was presented.
Bond had largely been untroubled due to the resilience of those in front of her, but when called upon the City Number One made a fantastic low save to keep out a Cori Williams header from a Cardiff corner.
With the game nearing its conclusion, Markham again got in behind the visiting defence and was fouled on the edge of the penalty area. Thierry –Jo Gauvain had perhaps been fortunate to escape punishment earlier in the half, but this time a second booking led to her dismissal.
O’Sullivan produced a stunning save to deny Toogood from the resulting free kick, the Welsh international number one underlying her quality throughout the afternoon. With eleven minutes of injury time to play out, the Grecians sought that clinching goal and it came with a moment of brilliance. Zuurmond, who is quickly becoming a crowd favorite with her all-action performances, weaved through the challenges before calmy slotting the ball beyond O’Sullivan to seal the points.
Sarah Stacey forced another save from O’Sullivan, before Milly Klinkenberg fired over the crossbar after battling her way into the Cardiff penalty area.
Cardiff deservedly thumped City in South Wales back in September and this was a performance that underlined the Grecians improvement. Relentless from the first minute, they never allowed Cardiff a foothold in the game and limited a considerably talented attack to few chances.
Abbie Britton and Aaron Wakley’s side move to the top of the league, but expect Cardiff to drop few, if any, points in the run in, so staying there is its own significant challenge. One thing is for sure, with ten games to play, City are in the title race.