Exeter City Women continued their strong start to 2024 with another resounding win in the National League, hitting Southampton Women’s FC for eight as they maintained their position at the head of the division.
The Grecians could not have started better, Jenna Markham smashing home from close range after only forty-nine seconds after a scramble in the visitor's penalty area. Mollie Taylor failed to connect with a back post corner, whilst Markham was having her own personal duel with Sirens’ Goalkeeper Grace Jenman, twice forcing good low saves as City started with intent.
Sarah Stacey fired over the crossbar, Phoebe Baker then repeating the feat as City created chance after chance but were guilty of not being clinical enough in front of goal. Taylor hit over, Amber Pollock struck wide, and Markham forced another strong palm away from Jenman as the Grecians probed away, but for all their dominance the lead at half time was by a single goal.
Jess Sandland strode from defence into the Southampton penalty area as the second half began, her cut back finding its way to Pollock who hit a fierce effort that was palmed away by Jenman. The visiting Goalkeeper had impressed all afternoon, but it would be an error that doubled City’s lead. A high looping cross was dropped at the feet of Stacey and she smashed in from close range.
Baker’s run was neatly found as she burst into the penalty area, her unselfish cut back allowing Ishbel Zuurmond to poke home for a third as City began to find spaces in the Sirens penalty area.
However, for all the dominance, as had been the case at Swindon last week, the opposition found a way back into the game. A chipped pass in behind the Grecians defence was chased down by the willing run of Maisie Aldridge and her lobbed effort beat the advancing Abbi Bond. It was just reward for debutant Aldridge who had ran tirelessly in a lone role for her team.
Undeterred, City hit back, Taylor delivering with precision as her near post cross was diverted past Jenman by Stacey. The Grecians soon hit five, Baker free in the penalty area once more and forcing a fine save, but Stacey was in the mood to take up the gift of anything from close range and fired in her second consecutive hat trick.
With the game entering into injury time, City took full advantage of tiring Southampton legs. Connie Pengelly fired in a classy free kick from twenty-five yards, the ball bending over the wall and past the outstretched hand of Jenman. Beth Ireland added her first league goal for City a minute later, slotting a cut back firmly into the bottom corner form the edge of the penalty area. Baker completed the scoring after Pengelly’s latest effort had thumped against the crossbar, the midfielder tapping in from close range for a deserved goal and the Grecians eighth.
There is a sign in the home side’s changing room that simply states ‘relentless.’ Even when not quite at their fluid best, that is what Abbie Britton and Aaron Wakley’s side are, three goals in injury time adding to a goal difference tally that may become all important at the season’s end. Next up is struggling Selsey before a crucial visit to fellow unbeaten side AFC Bournemouth. As good as the Grecians have been so far, they will need to take that relentless mindset into the second half of the season to achieve the goal of promotion.