Exeter City’s under-18s ultimately paid the price for their mistakes and squandered chances during a 3-1 defeat to Cheltenham Town last Saturday.
Despite the Grecians looking the more threatening, the Robins capitalised on a goalkeeping fumble just before the interval to break the deadlock.
With Exeter unable to properly test the Town goalkeeper, two further goals in three second-half minutes put the visitors into a comfortable position.
Jordan Dyer headed in a consolation for the home side in injury time, on a day that gave the Devon youngsters many lessons to learn from.
Chad Gribble’s team were hoping to use the momentum gained from last week’s fightback against AFC Bournemouth against a Cheltenham side who looked competitive and stubborn in their approach.
All of the early pressure came from City, with defenders Dyer and Joe Belsten firing off-target with their respective early opportunities.
James Dodd also flashed an effort wide on 17 minutes, but the away team fired a warning shot nine minutes later when they drifted in from the left wing and bent a ball just wide of the far post.
Despite the Robins growing into the game, the hosts continued to dominate possession and territory, with Harry Gardner going close before the Grecians perhaps fluffed their best chance of the half a minute after.
Exeter counter-attacked from their own half quickly with Lewis Wilson combining with Louis Morison. The latter saw an effort half-charged down, leaving the ball to fall nicely for Dodd. However, his low shot flew past the far side of the goal to leave bystanders wonder how the home side weren’t 1-0 up.
Ultimately, Gribble’s men were made to pay for it in first-half injury time when Town won themselves a free-kick in the Devon club’s half.
A long ball was sent into the City penalty area, and with keeper Felix Norman unable to catch the ball at the first attempt, a goalmouth scramble followed and Cheltenham bundled the ball home for a half-time lead.
Both sides traded early second-half chances during a time in the game when the next goal was crucial.
The Grecians controlled much of the third quarter of the match, with changes in personnel adding more energy and life into the Exeter ranks.
Will Dean’s volley provided the Cheltenham shot-stopper with a routine save, whilst Jack Stafford and Morison both fired off target.
The home team came closest to a leveller at the midway point of the second period, when the Devon outfit regaining possession in a dangerous position.
The ball switched flanks courtesy of replacement Ben Chrisene, before his through pass played in Dodd on the left-hand side of the 18-yard box. However, much like his previous chance, the attacker flashed his effort past the far post.
Three minutes later, the second goal of the game did arrive, and just like before, it punished Gribble’s men for wasting their chances.
The away team worked the ball out to their left flank, before their winger got to the byline to send in a cross towards his teammates.
A stooping header from the Robins’ striker was precise, and it beat the dive of Norman to find its way into the bottom corner. Three minutes later the advantage was extended again.
Cheick Diabate’s clearance was charged down by the hungry forward before the ball fell nicely for him, and he coolly converted his one-v-one opportunity to give the visitors a three-goal cushion.
Further substitutions were made to freshen things up, whilst the teams traded half-chances during the final 10 minutes.
Cheltenham looked to see the game out and record a clean sheet, but City did breakthrough in the fourth minute of added time.
Dodd’s corner was met by an unmarked Dyer six yards out, and his powerful effort proved to be too good for the away goalkeeper.
But there was no time to mount a comeback, as the referee blew for full-time, giving the hosts plenty to work on before their next fixture away at Portsmouth.
Exeter City under-18s' coach, Chad Gribble, said: “The match was a little disappointing. The most disappointing part of the performance was the way we have conceded the three goals. The performance wasn’t perfect in the first half, but we didn’t need to change a lot prior to what we had seen before the first goal. The way we set out to play certainly worked but we are disappointed in the manner the second and third goal went in.
“There was a lot of good possession, and off the back of that some good territory. We just lacked a bit of quality in the final third of the pitch. The way we have conceded to direct play shows we may be a bit vulnerable to that. Not all football matches are played in the way you want so credit has to go to Cheltenham as they played in a way that worked.
“We’ll certainly play more teams who play that way, and if the players want to continue a career in football they’ll play more teams like that too. The squad are a hard-working bunch, and they’ll be looking for ways to improve playing systems like that for the future.
“We play Portsmouth this weekend which is always tough. They use the ball well and can be well organised and disciplined. We will need to be ready for them but the ways the boys have approached this week in the lead up to the game has shown me that i’m sure we’ll be ready for whatever they throw at us.”
Exeter City under-18s: Felix Norman, Joe Belsten, Jordan Dyer, Cheick Diabate, Jack Stafford, Louis Morison, Will Dean, Tom Preece, Harry Gardner, James Dodd, Lewis Wilson. Subs: Jack Arthur, Ben Chrisene, Max Clark, Jay Stansfield, Callum Brake