Exeter City’s Under-18s’ rearranged Youth Alliance South West division match with Forest Green Rovers ended in a 6-1 victory for the Grecians in Gloucestershire on Wednesday.
However, the match proved to be a tighter affair than the scoreline suggests, with Dan Green’s side having to wait until the 36th minute to break the deadlock, courtesy of Brandon Parsons.
The teams exchanged goals at the end of the half, with Lucas White netting for the visitors. Exeter managed to wrap up the victory with four goals in 17 minutes towards the end of the match. Josh Key and Will Dean, plus two more goals from White, managed to seal the win against what proved to be a stubborn opponent for City under-18s.
The Devon club went into the contest looking to start 2018 in the brightest of fashions, and bounce back from their December defeat to Plymouth Argyle.
Without being at their normal fluent selves, the away side carved out decent opportunities for their strikers, but they were unable to convert their openings as they looked to get on the front foot early on.
However, despite spurning chances, the attackers never dwelt on their bad luck during the opening exchanges, and eventually, took the lead with 36 minutes played.
Joel Randall broke down the left wing before his square pass found the smart run made by Parsons, who finished well at the near post to make it 1-0.
A minute later, the Grecians found themselves in on goal again. After Josh Key’s high press on the right flank, the ball ricocheted into the path of White. From 12 yards, the poacher slid the ball home to double the lead for Green’s men.
However, all was not plain sailing for the visitors, and two minutes before half-time, Rovers pulled a goal back. Despite Joe O’Loughlin’s best efforts to stop the Forest Green breakaway, the hosts’ midfielder smashed home the loose ball to make the score 2-1.
A tight 15 minute period during the opening moments of the second half followed, with the next goal crucial to the outcome of the game.
As teams traded chances, Green looked towards his substitutes for a spark. On the hour mark, the coach made tactical switches, and the personnel brought on made a significant impact from the bench.
Eventually, it was the visitors who scored the game’s fourth goal with just 19 minutes remaining. James Dodd’s through ball was latched onto by Key, who managed to dribble his way past two defenders before arrowing a shot into the bottom corner to restore Exeter’s two-goal advantage.
That goal provided a lift for the Devon club, whilst it dealt a huge blow for the home side. Four minutes later Dodd provided the assist once again for City’s fourth goal with a magnificent back heel. The imaginative pass fell nicely for White, who tapped home his second to make it 1-4.
With 11 minutes left, White completed his hat-trick. Randall’s powerful strike was pushed away by the FGR goalkeeper, before White pounced on the rebound to score once more.
Finally, on 88 minutes, the victory was sewn up. After some good work down the wing by Harry Gardner, the replacement won his team a free-kick in a dangerous position. Will Dean sent the set-piece directly past the keeper to make it 6-1 and wrap up a decent day’s work for the away side.
Exeter City under-18s coach, Dan Green, said: “We knew with the game being our first after a mini break over the festive period, it was never going to be easy.
"Without being at our absolute best, we managed to create a lot of chances early on, and perhaps should have been more than two goals ahead in the first half. We made a couple of mistakes that led to their goal, which perhaps made the game more difficult than it might have been.
“We had a tough 15 minutes after half-time, but credit has to go to the subs as they came on and gave us more control intensity to grab hold of the game. They helped us take the game away from Forest Green Rovers.
“The game was tighter than the scoreline suggests. Their goal helped wake us up as it was important we didn’t concede again before half-time. Today was a great example of how one part of the game leads to the other. When we defended with more intensity and purpose we looked after the ball better and scored four goals without reply in the second half.
“There were three stand-out performances who were at it throughout the game. Josh Key was excellent and was a constant threat throughout, whilst Will Dean and James Dodd showed real purpose both with and without the ball, throughout the match.
Overall, there are areas we need to be better, as a group we have set higher standards than we showed at times during this game. Having said that, I’m really pleased with how we finished the game. The team was able to find their stride towards the end of the contest and we will be aiming to take that into our next match.”
Exeter City under-18s: Felix Norman, Jordan Dyer, Joe O’Loughlin, Sam Haynes, Mitch Thomas, Will Dean, Joel Randall, Josh Key, James Dodd, Lucas White, Brandon Parsons. Subs: Lewis Williams, Josh Williams, Joe Belston, Harry Gardner.