The start of the 2023 fixture list in the South West saw Plymouth Argyle host Cardiff City LFC at none other than Home Park stadium for the FAWNL Cup. The hosts compete in Tier 3 and are currently second from bottom, while the visitors are top of Tier 4. Cardiff had already brushed aside Bridgwater who sat higher up the Tier 3 table than Plymouth, so it was sure to be a competitive fixture.
Leading up to the game, and in the run up before Christmas, Plymouth’s manager Ryan Perks had been talking about focusing on remaining in Tier 3 and avoiding too much of a relegation battle. Cardiff meanwhile had suffered an injury to their game changer and regular right-winger Ellie Sargent, who was stretchered off in their last FA Cup game. They were also without regular stand-out defender, Thierry-Jo Gauvain due to illness. Cardiff manager, Jamie Philip, had never managed to beat Plymouth.
Both sides had a point to prove.
The teams arrived at the stadium and were welcomed into the dressing room, and the stands began to fill with those who’d bought tickets while players warmed up.
The game started very slowly, with neither side creating clear cut chances for much of the half. Argyle’s defence was resolute, but unable to instigate much by way of creative attack. Cardiff’s defence seemed a little nervous, and while solid their midfield struggled to link in with Cori Williams and Kerry Bartlett in attack. As a result, the game was played in the middle of the pitch. When Chloe Lloyd stayed down following a challenge, Cardiff manager Jamie Phillip called the team in to deliver a message while their number 8 received treatment. Whatever was said worked, and the Dragons began to play with increased vigour and tempo, better link-up play and a style of football that was more similar to how they usually played. The game began to stretch out.
The score at half time remained 0-0, with the hosts having the best chance of the game so far after the Wales keeper failed to hold onto a cross, which Kelly Isaac cleared off the line.
The second half produced a very different display from both sides. Each team came out of the changing rooms with increased focus, and the game was far more end-to-end. The visitors had made a couple of changes, bringing off Kerry Bartlett from the attack and replacing her with Grace Seren, who had been at left back. Hannah Mills moved into defence.
Seren’s impact was immediately felt, and the players around her seemed to feel more confident and played with much more strength and creativity. Cardiff had the best of the first 10 minutes of the second half, threatening the goal and keeping Plymouth pinned into their own half. The tides turned, however, and Plymouth retaliated with an attack, only to be brought down in the box.
Penalty to the hosts. This was converted by Zoe Cunningham, and Plymouth led 1-0 with 55 minutes played.
The response from Cardiff was immediate. Emily Poole, who had been making her presence very much felt on the right wing, scored with a first time effort that curled into the top right hand corner just two minutes later.
Poole was gifted another chance just a few minutes later, but this went high. Following their goals, both teams now had confidence, and with the clock ticking down the remaining half an hour, the pressure was on to avoid extra time. The game stretched, Charlotte Whitmore for Plymouth tore down the left wing, and after some fancy footwork teased a ball across the box. Lily Greenslade slid in to stick out a foot, and converted the opportunity just inside the far post, far beyond the reach of Laura O’Sullivan. The 1,518 fans in attendance roared in jubilation.
From this point on, Plymouth kept pushing for a third and Cardiff searched for another equaliser. With 15 minutes to go, however, the Dragons looked tired and the chances were fewer and further between. In the dying minutes, an opportunity arose but was saved by the Argyle keeper, Jasmine Read.
The final whistle blew. Argyle were ardently celebrating, Cardiff hung their heads, defeated for the first time in all competitions this season. Players and managers alike congratulated their opponents but if Cardiff are to progress to Tier 3 next season, this was a wake-up call, since Plymouth have only 6 points on the board after 10 games.
Following the game, Jamie Philip said he was disappointed ‘I’m devastated. We’re beatable, we found that out today’. When asked whether he could see bowing out of the FAWNL Cup as a blessing in disguise, in order to focus on the league and the FA Cup, he responded with a shake of the head ‘I want to win every game – the competition is not important to me.’
On playing in front of an opposition home crowd, Grace Seren commented ‘I love it! I live for these moments, I’d rather play in front of 1500 angry fans than just my family cheering me on’
The hosts’ manager, Ryan Perks, said ‘It was a tough game, it could have gone either way, a good battle. It’s nice to start ’23 with a win!’
Plymouth Argyle face Portsmouth in the next round of the FAWNL cup, while Cardiff will travel to Burnley for their next FA Cup fixture.