Exeter City’s under-18s suffered defeat on the road last Friday in an eventful 3-2 match with Cambridge United in the latest round of Merit League One fixtures.
Despite starting quite well, the Grecians went two goals behind inside the opening 21 minutes.
Will Dean halved the deficit on the half-hour mark, and six minutes later, the two sides would have been level had Lucas White’s effort not been given offside.
Dean did equalise for the away side just before half-time, and in a tight second period, it was United who stole the victory on 72 minutes with a goal on the break.
The final scoreline was hard luck on Exeter, who had to make the best of the preparations after a waterlogged pitch saw the kick-off date and location changed.
It meant Dan Green and his young squad day-tripped to the east side of the country, eventually ending up at a local non-league stadium to face Cambridge.
But in spite of the early start and near five-hour journey, the visitors started the match relatively brightly. With the game taking place on a 3G surface, City’s players were able to move the ball around effectively.
However, with 11 minutes on the clock, the home team grabbed an early breakthrough, hitting their opponents on the counter-attack.
Following an attack down the left, a cross to the edge of the penalty area resulted in an effort on goal from 18-yards which beat Lewis Williams to give the U’s a one-goal advantage.
At the midway point of the first half, the Cambridgeshire outfit doubled their lead. Following a short corner, the ball was sent deep towards the Grecians’ back post and the hosts leapt to the ball first to divert the ball home.
Resilience has been a key characteristic of the away side this season though and they displayed that when they pulled a goal back on 30 minutes.
After the ball broke nicely for Dean 20-yards from goal, the Exeter youngster deceived the goalkeeper with his strike, making it 2-1.
Moments later, Green’s men thought they had equalised when a sumptuous pass from Dean found White, who showed great composure to tuck away the opportunity. However, play was pulled back after it was adjudged that White had strayed offside in what was perhaps a controversial decision.
The visitors didn’t allow that setback to get to them, as they rallied and did restore parity on 41 minutes. After some bright play from Jack Sparkes on the left wing, he fed the ball in towards Dean. Dean combined with James Dodd, before the former latched onto his teammates’ neat set-up to fire the ball into the top corner.
Half-time saw Green hand a City under-18s debut to Cheick Diabate, and whilst both teams were looking to swing the game in their favour, neither side could keep up any attacking pressure long enough to dominate proceedings.
The Devon club enjoyed the most momentum in a tight second period, and they went closest to a third goal when Harry Kite and Joe O’Loughlin squandered half-chances, whilst Jordan Dyer was also unable to convert following a set-piece routine.
Charlie Skilton appeared off the Grecians’ bench to make his first under-18s competitive appearance as Green tried to add some energy to his side, but for all of the encouraging signs, it was United who netted the fifth goal of the contest.
Following a breakdown in possession, Cambridge broke quickly and after seeing a number of half-chances repelled by the Exeter defence, the ball was worked wide for a cross. The lively forward for the home side got to the ball first and headed it past a stranded Williams to give his side the lead once again.
It was a cruel blow to the visitors, but they tried to rally and find an equaliser in the final 18 minutes.
Theo Simpson, who made his first appearance of the season following a broken leg, was introduced, whilst Max Clark and Jack Arthur also made appearances off the bench as Green hoped his team could find another leveller.
However, nothing clear-cut was created in a difficult end to the match, resulting in City’s youngsters suffering their second consecutive defeat, and a small set-back in their Merit League ambitions.
City under-18s coach Dan Green, said: “We gave it a real good go. We were always working hard, looking to edge ahead against another tough opponent.
“We gave away too many poor moments, so we have got to be better in those situations. This is the second week in a row where we have given away three goals. We can’t expect to concede three times in a match and win. We are looking to get back to cutting out mistakes and keeping clean sheets again.
“There were certainly good moments for everyone that was involved. Will Dean was outstanding and it was great to see Jack Arthur and Max Clark, (both under-15s) take part when we were chasing the game. We will be better in the long term for this type of experience. We’ll be hoping the boys can turn it around when we play Stevenage at home this Saturday.”
Exeter City under-18s: Lewis Williams, Joe Belston, Jordan Dyer, Josh Hancock, Joe O’Loughlin, Will Dean, Harry Kite, Harry Gardner, James Dodd, Jack Sparkes, Lucas White. Subs: Jack Arthur, Cheick Diabate, Max Clark, Theo Simpson Charlie Skilton