Exeter City Women suffered late heartbreak as three goals in the final minutes dumped the team out of the FA Cup at Cheltenham Town on Sunday afternoon.
The Grecians started in confident mood, Zoe Cunningham, Jenna Markham and Ishbel Zuurmond testing home Goalkeeper Aimee Watson from distance, all efforts lacking the required power to provide an opening goal. Town broke in between the City defence for their first effort, the shot from wide of the penalty area directed at Abbi Bond who kept the ball away from danger with the save.
The Grecians were looking comfortable in possession and organised defensively, Cunningham, Zuurmond and Zoe Watkins winning the midfield battle and Sarah Stacey and Markham applying pressure to the home defence at every opportunity.
Zuurmond struck an effort from the edge of the penalty area, her shot deflected wide off the head of Stacey as City pushed for the goal their play deserved. Markham glanced a Jess Sandland corner wide of the target, Zuurmond then flashing an effort narrowly wide before Bond was forced into two strong saves to deny Town on the counter.
With half time looming City found their shooting boots, Mollie Taylor raced clear on the right and played in Markham, her cross was controlled by Stacey who fired into the net on the turn for the lead with a sublime finish.
The second half began with Cheltenham creating a good chance to level, Una Lue failing to connect with a cross into the danger area, the ball looping up into the grateful hands of Bond.
The game then settled into a scrap, Town looking to set up Ffion Llewellyn for a searching ball into the Grecians backline and City struggling to find the composure in possession that had seen them control the first half.
With the game not following any real pattern it would be City who had a big chance to seal a place in Round Three, the impressive Zuurmond racing clear of the home defenders but putting her effort the wrong side of the post.
For the majority of the half the contest looked set to go the Grecians way as they had dealt combatively with the Town attack, but it was a moment of real quality that would throw the tie back open. Emily Allen chased a ball over the City backline, cutting inside and hitting a curling effort into the top corner with a stunning strike.
From relative comfort to despair, Phoebie Poole outmuscled the City defence moments later and her effort from the edge of the penalty area found the bottom corner as the game headed into injury time.
As City pushed forward, a penalty then came, a clear foul and the spot kick dispatched by Emily Owen. Stacey pulled one back as this cagey contest came to a bizarre conclusion, but it was too late for Abbie Britton and Aaron Wakley’s side as they exited the Cup.
A disappointing result, but certainly not a disappointing performance as City more than held their own against higher league opponents. Rueful of missed chances and some questionable officiating, the Grecians can consider themselves slightly unfortunate not to be in the draw for Round Three. With a top of the league clash this weekend against AFC Bournemouth, a repeat of the level of performance from Sunday will surely see them go close to achieving the result that they want to achieve.