Exeter City’s under-18s succumbed to their first loss of the season with a 2-0 defeat to Bristol Rovers on Saturday.
Despite applying plenty of pressure on the Pirates’ goal with a flurry of corners, a set-piece of their own led to the visitors breaking the deadlock on 15 minutes.
The Grecians controlled much of the possession in the moments afterwards, but Rovers doubled their lead on the half-hour mark thanks to a swift break.
The hosts came into their first home match of the season full of optimism following an impressive showing in their opening game against Plymouth Argyle.
The early exchanges were fairly even, with both sides trading possession and attacking moments, as they tried to get a grip of one another.
It was the Devon club who created the first opportunity after 10 minutes. A long ball allowed Harry Gardner to swing in a dangerous cross that the Pirates’ goalkeeper had to tip onto his crossbar.
The home side cranked up the pressure by winning a succession of corners, but it was Rovers who opened the scoring of their own from a set-play. A corner was played short, before the ball entered the penalty box and a goalbound effort evaded everyone and ended up in the back of the net.
In spite of the setback, the hosts enjoyed a decent spell of possession afterwards, with their opponents only threatening a second goal off the back of City’s mistakes.
On 30 minutes, after a quick turnover in possession, a counter-attack from the away team led to them breaking through on goal and taking their chance, punishing the Devon club in clinical fashion.
The Bristol club took the 2-0 lead into half-time, but the second period saw the home side come out in a determined mood. They were, however, frustrated on numerous occasions when they found breaking the Gas defence down a difficult task.
Exeter perhaps wasted their best opportunity of getting back into the game on 50 minutes, when a set piece led to a goalmouth scramble. The ball though failed to be bundled home by the Grecians, letting the Pirates off, and keeping the score at 2-0.
Gribble’s men continued to search for ways of getting through the opposition, and Gardner was unfortunate midway through the second half when he took too long when lining up a shot after drifting in from his wing.
Half-chances came and went for the hosts, but the scoreline remained in Rovers’ favour as the clock ticked down.
Exeter City under-18s coach, Chad Gribble, said: “It was a frustrating day. We had a mix of experience and inexperience in the team, but the match highlighted two key lessons for us. The importance of set pieces, and how we can’t get frustrated with a team who will sit in front of us.
“We had a great chance from a corner which we probably should score. At that point we had put real pressure on them, but we failed to switch on when they broke out from the fourth corner. They’ve worked the ball out for a corner and managed to score from it which is disappointing. We really value set pieces. They’re a key part of football, and after defending them well against Plymouth Argyle, we’re disappointed we didn’t capitalise on them here.
“Despite the defeat, there were positives. Admittedly it was a bad day for us, but it is relieving to know that we can still create chances when we are not at our best. There were also good individual performances from Joe Belston, who was a constant threat and showed he can handle himself well at this level, and Cheick Diabate, who defended their direct balls well which is a trait you need to have against certain sides.
“We travel to AFC Bournemouth next, and we will definitely be looking for a response. It was obvious the players came off disappointed on Saturday, but the group has some good characters, and they will be looking to work hard in training this week and bounce back next time.”
Exeter City under-18s: Felix Norman, Joe Belston, Jordan Dyer, Cheick Diabate, Jack Stafford, Louis Morison, Will Dean, James Dodd, Harry Gardner, Jay Stansfield, Lewis Wilson. Subs: Jack Arthur, Tom Preece, Max Clark, Frank Lovett, Ben Chrisene