Exeter City’s under-18s battled through some tough conditions to win the Devon Derby 3-1 against Plymouth Argyle on Tuesday afternoon.
On a rainy afternoon at the Cliff Hill training ground, Will Dean’s 29th-minute penalty gave the young Grecians a first-half lead before an own goal and a Charlie Lawrence strike completed the scoring.
With the wet weather again forcing the match to take place on the 4G artificial pitch, Chad Gribble and his squad were looking to end their 2018 fixture list with a victory over their Devon rivals Plymouth.
With both sides adjusting to the rain, and the slickness of the pitch, clear-cut opportunities were at a premium. However, the Grecians, and Lawrence, had the first meaningful shot on goal after three minutes when he linked up with James Dodd and A Trialist.
Both teams squandered headed chances, with Cheick Diabate missing for the hosts, but it seemed as if the defences were on top in the game as neither goalkeeper had much action during the opening 25 minutes.
City started to get on top of proceedings afterwards with a Dean volley the first of a flurry of chances during a positive spell.
Good work from Joe Belsten and Lawrence allowed A Trialist to fire a shot into the side netting on 28 minutes and, moments later, from the resulting goal kick, Exeter broke the deadlock.
James Dodd won the ball back for his team in the midfield area, before sliding a pass into the path of his forward. The away goalkeeper tripped A Trialist as the striker tried to round him, resulting in the referee awarding a penalty, and handing the shot-stopper a yellow card. Dean despatched the spot-kick to deservedly make it 1-0.
The home side glanced a header wide during the closing stages of the half, but the momentum fully swung the other direction after the restart.
The Pilgrims headed off-target from a corner during the opening stages of the second period, and despite Dodd’s positive run and shot for Gribble’s men soon afterwards, the ball was primarily with the visitors in the Grecians’ half.
A ball over the hosts’ defence, resulted in Felix Norman saving well from an Argyle attacker in the 64th minute, before the resulting corner led to a scramble in the City penalty area, and a shot that was deflected over the crossbar.
Exeter’s defence were keeping their opponents at bay, and with the second goal in the contest crucial, it was they who wasted the next golden chance when a free header from a corner somehow bounced over the bar.
The away side were off-target with another header from a set-piece 20-minutes from the end, but that opportunity, combined with the substitutions made from the home team, seemed to spur Gribble’s men back into life.
Jack Veale and Dodd both came close to increasing the Grecians’ lead within a matter of seconds of one another, whilst replacements Jack Stafford and Jay Stansfield’s combination on the left flank led to A Trialist bringing another save out of the Pilgrim’s keeper.
In the 89th minute, City made it 2-0. Stansfield’s positive run allowed him to run free of the opposing defender, before reaching the byline to pull the ball back in front of goal. The visitors weren’t completely set for the low cross, and one defender ended up sliding the ball into his own goal.
Exeter continued their ruthless fashion in front of goal when the game crept into injury-time. The home midfield were able to work the ball down the right wing and substitute Theo Simpson pulled the ball back into another dangerous area and Lawrence was able to run onto the ball and smash home the third goal of the afternoon.
Exeter City under-18s coach, Chad Gribble, said: “I am really pleased. We knew after the first period they would have a spell, and it was a difficult second half at times. But we were happy and comfortable to defend.
“We took away their space, and restricted them to direct football, with Felix Norman happy to sweep up behind our backline. We felt towards the end of the first half they were getting in the spaces between our defence and midfield, but we didn’t panic and we took their game away from them in the second half.
“Sometimes statistics and possession percentages can be misleading. We know they had most of the ball in the game, but we created more of the chances. We counter-attacked well, and as they committed more men forward, we were able to take the two chances at the end.
“The whole team was hard working and resilient. We want the boys to realise that clean sheets can win games as much as goals sometimes. Jack Veale had a big ask coming in for his debut in a derby match, but he was very composed and played like a player well beyond his years.
“We’ve had three good games after some difficult results. The FA Youth Cup hit us hard, and we suffered a bit of a hangover from that, but we’ve managed to pick it up well again. We’ve scored nine goals in three matches, against some good opposition, and only conceded once. The last three matches have shown us that the boys can do both sides of the game well. It is nice to now go into the Christmas break off the back of a derby victory, where the main aim is to rest and recover, but be prepared for when we go again on January 5.”
Exeter City under-18s: Felix Norman, Jordan Dyer, Cheick Diabate, Joe Belsten, Max Clark, Jack Veale, Will Dean, Charlie Lawrence, Nelson Iseguan, James Dodd, A Trialist. Subs: Jack Arthur, Jack Stafford, Theo Simpson, Lewis Wilson, Jay Stansfield