Exeter City’s under-18s suffered a 1-0 defeat in the Youth Alliance South West division to the hands of local rivals Plymouth Argyle in what was their final match before their Christmas break.
Argyle, coming off the back of an eye-catching win in the FA Youth Cup over Manchester City last week, took the lead from a corner with their first shot on target midway through the first period.
The Grecians increased the pressure late in the half, but they were unable to find a way through thanks to some solid defending and decent goalkeeping.
City saw much of the ball after the interval, but Jack Sparkes and Brandon Parsons were unable to find a way through for Exeter. The Pilgrims looked threatening on the counter-attack, but despite both teams finding themselves in good positions, no further scores meant it stayed at 1-0 up until the final whistle.
The match saw a tentative start from both teams, with both midfields trying to gain the upper hand in the middle of the Harpers Park pitch.
The first real opportunity arrived just before the 20-minute mark, when Dan Green’s men won a free-kick on the left wing. Will Dean’s centre was met by Sparkes, but he glanced his header beyond the far post.
The hosts took the lead three minutes later. A short corner routine led to a cross from the right, and after the ball drifted over the front post, the incoming defender found himself free and bundled the ball home with his side’s first effort of the match.
City, with their best move of the game, they almost equalized on 41 minutes. Josh Key latched onto a long ball before he combined with Sparkes. The forward found James Dodd but his strike that was beaten away from the Argyle keeper.
Minutes later, Harry Kite linked up with Sparkes, before the latter could only slide a shot agonisingly past the right-hand post.
There was still time for the Pilgrims to carve a chance out themselves. With their most promising attack, a reverse pass saw their winger played in, but Felix Norman saved well to keep it at a one-goal game.
The second half began with the Grecians in a determined mood. Just two minutes into the half, they created another decent chance. Sparkes’ first-time cross was intercepted by a brave Green Army goalkeeper, despite two City players on hand ready to tap the ball home.
The visitors kept on coming forward, and on 52 minutes they were unlucky not to score again. Joel Randall moved the ball on to Dodd, before his pass released Sparkes through one-on-one, but he was to be denied by what was becoming a busy Plymouth shot-stopper.
Substitutions were made by Green, and Brandon Parsons and Lucas White were brought on for extra firepower, though it was the home team that perhaps grew in confidence during the second period.
On 74 minuts, Norman perhaps produced the save of the contest when a cross from the left was met by the hosts’ striker, but his header was kept out with a point-blank reaction save by Exeter’s shot stopper.
Exeter City’s under-18s coach, Dan Green, said: “We weren’t at our best today, and in fairness to Plymouth Argyle, they have created a few good chances on the counter-attack. It’s a good result for them, but a disappointment for us certainly.
“Sometimes you have one of those days, but we’ll move on from it. We work on our set-pieces, and it’s disappointing we have conceded from one. There’s going to be things that we could have done better to stop that, as a team and individually, and certainly we’ll look to come back from this.
“The start was too slow as a team, and then their goal wasn’t unexpected. It was a great example to the team that you’ve got to be at it, otherwise you’ll end up being punished, and that’s exactly what has happened here.
“We now have a few days off over Christmas, but we’ll be in training on some days just to keep things ticking over. There are a few games left before we reach the midway point of the season, and our next match is against Forest Green Rovers on January 3rd, before a cup semi-final to look forward too.”
Exeter City under-18s: Felix Norman, Josh Hancock, Jordan Dyer, Will Dean, Sam Haynes, Mitch Thomas, Harry Kite, Joel Randall, James Dodd, Josh Key, Jack Sparkes. Subs: Josh Williams, Joe Belston, Joe O’Loughlin, Brandon Parsons, Lucas White