When the draw for this round was made, anyone who followed either Cardiff City LFC or Bridgwater United FC Women knew it was going to be a tremendously tasty tie.
Things to be considered before a ball had even been kicked: Bridgwater play in the FAWNL tier 3; Cardiff play in tier 4. Bridgwater sit in 9th position of the Southern Premier Division – but have posted results such as a 3-2 win over Portsmouth (currently 3rd place), a 1-0 loss to Ipswich Town (currently 4th place) and a 2-0 loss AET to Oxford United (currently top of the table in Tier 3).
Cardiff, meanwhile, were without regular goalkeeper and Wales’ number 1 Laura O’Sullivan, who was away on international duty. They were also dogged by injuries.
The day before the match, Cardiff were made aware that one of their veteran’s team players, Betsan Wyn Morris, had passed suddenly after a short illness, aged just 44.
The odds certainly seemed stacked in the visitors’ favour.
On this day, however, it seemed Cardiff were intent to prove they did not know how to lose.
A sombre minute’s silence was held before the whistle blew for kick-off. The game commenced.
From the outset it became clear that it would be a game that was won in the middle of the pitch. Both teams fought to gain ground, and Cardiff’s ‘keeper for the day, Grace Seren, came out to the edge of the box to make an early save, sliding in to pluck the ball from the feet of the visitors’ player. Seren would continue to make saves like this throughout the first half, fiercely defending her box and preventing Bridgwater from being able to pull off anything dangerous in the shots department.
The deadlock was broken after only 20 minutes, by a superb goal from distance by Cardiff’s Laura Williams, whose shot from distance curled into the top corner, eliciting tumultuous cheers from the home crowd.
Despite a few more attempts on goal from both sides, the battle remained in the midfield, with each team drawing fouls and intensity and passion growing both on and off the pitch.
The whistle blew for half-time with the score 1-0 to Cardiff.
Tensions were high on the side of the pitch, with supporters, and indeed club staff, unable to decide whether they could watch the second half with such a precarious lead!
At 52 minutes, Cardiff scored a second through Kerry Bartlett. Kudos to TJ Gauvin who started the attack through a charge out of defence, evading the pincer from Bridgwater and facilitating a dangerous cross from Ellie Sargent.
The second half seemed more stretched than the first, with more opportunities at either end but Bridgwater unable to really test Grace Seren in goal.
With 67 minutes gone, Cardiff found a third goal via Ingrid Ådland who buried her strike far out of reach into the bottom corner.
With 70 minutes gone, the home crowd were visibly more relaxed – and the away team visibly more frustrated as time ticked by.
A flurry of substitutions were made – with the visitors looking for fresh legs and ideas as to how to break down the home side. Cardiff, meanwhile, seeked to manage game minutes and injuries.
The Dragons showed no sign of slowing down, however. In-form Ellie Sargent sliced up the right wing, cut inside a defender and carved a goal of her own making with 10 minutes left on the clock.
The final whistle blew and the crowd erupted. Music blasted out from the sound system. Embraces poured out of the Cardiff club staff.
Bridgwater United Women’s first team had just suffered their first defeat by 4 or more goals in a competitive game since at least 2019. Indeed, Bridgwater have played top of the table Oxford United twice this season (one league game and one cup game) and both times lost 2-0 – a respectable score!
Player of the match, Emily Poole, said:
‘We were full of confidence going into the game, from the off we were fighting for everything and trying to get tackles in. The first 10-20 minutes I think it was quite open but after the first goal it was clear which team was on top, which team wanted it more. We all fought hard for each other, worked hard, and I think the final scoreline reflects that’
Cardiff powered their way to the second round of the FA cup with a statement of a win over a respectable Tier 3 side. There must be something in the air in Wales. This is a team that haven’t lost a game since before pre-season. How far will the Dragons continue to fly? It’s anyone’s guess, but future opponents would do well to keep a look-out.
Photo credits: Monks Photography