Exeter City Women promoted after completing unbeaten season

Exeter City Women secured promotion to the third tier of Women’s football for the first time in the Club’s history after an absorbing contest at the Exwick Sports Hub on Sunday afternoon. Needing a point for promotion, the ten women of the Grecians hung up for a 1-1 draw to complete the unbeaten season and win the league title.

The Cherries started in a confident manner, controlling possession and winning an early corner for City to defend. Jenna Markham stole a bouncing ball off the toe of a visiting defender to race away towards goal, her effort drilled toward Bournemouth Goalkeeper Daniela Kosinska at her near post. Stacey’s low cross gave the City forward an even better chance moments later, but Markham’s effort from close range was fired over.

With Steve Cuss’ side controlling territory, the Grecians were restricting the visitors to efforts from distance, Abbi Bond untroubled with the early efforts on goal. However, City would gift the Cherries a chance that would be taken just before the half hour mark, Gemma McGuiness latching onto a stray City pass and looping an effort up and over Bond.

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Georgie-Marie Barbour-Gresham had a chance from a Jess Sandland delivery, mistiming a volleyed effort as City lacked control of the game to fashion anything more than half chances. Molly Barron-Clark flashed an audacious effort wide of Bond’s upright as Bournemouth continued to maintain control of the contest, City behind at the break but, after missing two early chances of their own, perhaps fortunate to have only a one goal deficit.

After a stagnate first period, Abbie Britton and Aaron Wakley’s side came out with a far better tempo to their play. Sarah Stacey flashing a header just wide before the game's key moment arrived with ten minutes of the half played.

Barbour-Gresham sent a long ball forward and Markham raced on to the Cherries defensive indecision, as she rounded Kosinska she was sent into the air from the Goalkeeper’s challenge. On the edge of the penalty area and with Markham having an empty net to score into before the Goalkeeper’s intervention, the referee controversially ruled that defenders were in covering positions and only showed a yellow card.

With the sellout crowd now finding their voice, Zoe Cunningham stepped up to send the free kick into the top corner and draw City level and back to the top of the division.

Kosinska made a stunning stop to deny Amber Pollock what may well have been the goal of the season, springing to palm a fierce drive out of the top corner. This was now a very different Grecians side to the first half and the visitors struggled to regain the control they had in the first half.

However, with City pushing for a winning goal, this fascinating contest would twist again, Mollie Taylor picking up a second yellow for a foul on the impressive Kenni Thompson and the Grecians left to see out the final moments with ten players. The resulting free kick hit the face of Bond's crossbar as the contest opened up once more.

The boundless energy of Pollock, Markham and Ishbel Zuurmond offered City the chance to break the late Bournemouth pressure and, withstanding some efforts from distance, the Grecians saw out the remaining part of the game and accompanying eight minutes of injury time relatively comfortably.

The final whistle brought scenes of joy and relief; a team that has been so dominant in this division for two years will finally have the chance to test themselves at a higher, more competitive level. It was a brutal conclusion for the visitors, Cuss' side finishing the season undefeated with a goal difference of over ninety, yet due to the limitations around promotion will have to do it all again next season, a feeling City can certainly sympathise with.

As the crowd ran on the pitch at the final whistle to join in the celebrations and, with hundreds of young girls in attendance, this team’s legacy will not only be the trophies that they have won but the positive impact that they have had on those that look up to them and the interest in Women’s football that they have helped generate in the City.

Now for the next chapter to begin.