As the international window opens, the curtains close briefly for a mid-season interval for Cardiff City Ladies and an opportunity arises to take stock of the season so far.
Re-cap from Burnley
Going against the odds and expectations stacked against them, the Dragons flew up to Burnley in the FA Cup fourth round to put in a confident display and progress to the last 16 with a 1-4 victory on the 29th of January. Cardiff showed their resilience and class to defeat top-table contenders of the division above, particularly following defeats against Plymouth Argyle and Moneyfields earlier in the month.
What happened in Exeter?
Facing their nearest opposition in the league, Exeter City, should have been an opportunity to capitalise on the buzz and success that pervaded the Cardiff club after their FA cup win. Despite it being a ‘6 pointer’, beating their Tier 4 foes should have been a formality, but the Welsh side landed on the South coast of England on Sunday 6th February to an Exeter side who were chomping at the bit to make up for their 5-0 defeat in Wales at the start of the season.
The pitch at Exwick Sports Hub is very short compared to Cardiff’s home ground at Ocean Park. Exeter capitalised on this advantage, denying Cardiff the luxury of long through balls that can split defence. Instead, Exeter dominated possession for large spells, denying Cardiff much by way of opportunities on goal.
The Grecians played with composure and mental dominance, putting pressure on and creating added work for Cardiff on and off the ball. Jubilant scenes erupted for the south coast hosts when they scored on the brink of half time with Emily Toogood scoring from close range.
Cardiff’s response after half-time was immediate, and the game was taken up a gear. Exeter remained resolute, absorbing waves of Welsh pressure throughout the second half. The game was physical and furious, both teams fighting for dominance at the top of the table in this clash between first and second. Cardiff saw red when Thierry-Jo Gauvain was sent off following a second yellow. It was a mark of the physicality of the game that eleven minutes of added time were observed.
Five minutes into injury time, Exeter City’s number 17, Ishmel Zuurmond, fashioned a fantastic solo run and a cool finish in the bottom corner to leave her stamp on the scoresheet. A sizeable crowd celebrated the victory in the winter sunshine, and Cardiff returned to Wales with some lessons to learn, their third loss of 2023, and a battle for the league’s top spot looking tighter than ever.
Sweeping Aside St Austell
Moving on from the disappointment of their trip to Exeter was a priority for Cardiff – they could not let their reaction to their second league loss, and third loss in all competitions since January 1st, define their upcoming games. Some luck fell their way as the Welsh would face St Austell in their next league game on Sunday 12th February.
The odds are stacked in Cardiff’s favour – St Austell is over a four hour drive away, in Cornwall, and their women’s side sit at the bottom of the FAWNL Division 1 South West, having been promoted last season. Cardiff would be facing their Cornish rivals at home in Wales. Despite missing TJ Gauvain due to her red card from the previous week, and a few of the players being held together by physio tape, Cardiff found themselves 4-0 up at half time, and rounded off the game with a full 10-0 final score. Manager Jamie Phillip said ‘Who wins games 10-0 in our league? We do. No-one else’
At the same time as Cardiff were playing, Exeter City were playing mid-table Selsey. As the goals poured in for the Dragons, supporters were anxiously refreshing their Twitter feeds. Exeter were 1-0 down to Selsey, and the referee on the South Coast was not afraid of brandishing cards, with both yellow and red cards seeing the light of day, as well as the sin bin.
It would have been a perfect day for the Dragons had Exeter been defeated, or even drawn, but their table-top rivals managed to find the back of the net against Selsey twice in the final two minutes, despite playing with ten players.
The International Break – what might happen?
The rest of the FAWNL continues during the international break – but Cardiff get a chance to catch their breath, rest any knocks, and prepare for their upcoming FA Cup 5th Round game against professional outfit Lewes FC while Laura O’Sullivan represents Wales in the Pinatar Cup, in Spain.
The club and supporters will certainly be keeping an eye on the league fixtures that are played in the coming weeks as the table continues to take shape. Exeter City now have four games in a row that are being played away, and Cardiff will be hoping that the Grecians drop points.
Bournemouth follow in third place, with 29 points to Cardiff and Exeter City’s respective 33 and 34, and having played two more games (15) than the top two (13).
The only side to have beaten Cardiff at home, Moneyfields, follow up in fourth place with 12 games played and 26 points.
The season holds a certainty of spills and thrills, and there is a fantastic title race for the neutral to enjoy in the FAWNL South West.
Cardiff, meanwhile, prepare to face top opposition in the 5th round of the FA Cup. Tickets for the game on 26th February can be bought via Lewes’ website.