Exeter City’s under-18s suffered the first defeat of their Merit League campaign with a 3-0 loss away at Portsmouth last Saturday.
In blustery conditions, Pompey opened the scoring in a fortuitous manner when a corner curled its' way directly into the back of the net. The home side netted once more before half-time courtesy of a penalty.
Despite a bright opening from City’s youngsters in the second half, the win was sealed with 20 minutes remaining when the South Coast club scored another spot-kick.
In spite of Chad Gribble’s men coming away from the match with nothing, they still sit in a comfortable mid-table position as they approach the halfway point of Merit League One.
Saturday’s contest saw Portsmouth play with the help of the wind in the first period, and the hosts took full advantage of the conditions to test Exeter’s resolve in what was a testing 45 minutes of football for them.
The strong gusts pushed Pompey forward, giving themselves lots of territory, and applying plenty of offensive pressure on their opponents.
The visitors struggled to get any foothold in the match, and with just 10 minutes played, the home team broke the deadlock, albeit in lucky circumstances.
A corner from the right-hand side was whipped into the centre, and with the swirling breeze making things difficult for those waiting in the middle, Felix Norman, attempted to punch the ball away from danger. The Grecians’ goalkeeper misjudged the flight of the cross, and the ball ended up going straight into the goal.
The Devonians looked to respond to the conceded effort, and their spell after led to some half-chances which the forwards were unable to make the most of.
Lewis Wilson’s strike against the wind made things comfortable for the Hampshire keeper, whilst Theo Simpson’s threatening cross was also dealt with relative ease.
The advantage was doubled in the 33rd minute following an attack down the left wing. Some good footwork from the Portsmouth winger allowed him to cut in from his flank, before being brought down inside the 18-yard box by a recovering Louis Morison. The penalty was despatched, meaning the hosts took a two-goal lead into half-time with them.
A positive restart from the away team looked as if they may find a way back into the contest. Their intentions were similar to those of their opponents’ in the first half, but they struggled to generate any real quality in the final third of the pitch.
With City unable to keep the ball, and Pompey taking the sting out of the game, most of the goal threats came from the home team looking to exploit the space in behind Gribble’s men after winning back possession.
Portsmouth began to enjoy more of the ball as the half grew older, and on 70 minutes, they managed to score a third to wrap up the three points.
The hosts looked to get in behind the Exeter defence once again, and despite Cheick Diabate’s solid defensive efforts, the officials adjudged that the centre-back handled the ball inside the penalty area to hand Pompey a second spot-kick. The attempt was converted to make it 3-0.
In the final 20 minutes, the home side displayed real professionalism and managed the game effectively to not allow the opposition a sniff of a chance to reduce the deficit. With no change to the scoreline, it meant this was the first time the young Grecians had failed to score in a Merit League match this season, and whilst they went back to the Westcountry with no points, they could reflect on plenty of opportunities to learn, and look to right the wrongs in time for their next fixture.
Exeter City under-18s coach, Chad Gribble, said: “I felt that Portsmouth managed the conditions better. It certainly helped that they were playing with the wind in the first half. After they scored what was a ‘freak’ goal, it gave them an advantage, not just on the scoreboard but psychologically too.
“Difficult conditions like this can happen, and you only have to look at the Premier League on some Saturdays to see it happens at the highest level too. It was tough out there, but it is all about knowing how to deal with it, and I feel they showed a more mature and savvy approach to it then we did.
“We have a tough run of games to come, starting with a home match against Oxford United this weekend. They are always a difficult opponent and they won the South West division this season so we know how strong they are. The Merit League we are in consists of the best teams from the south west and south east, so there are no easy games here. The response from the boys is the key this week. It takes character to respond to a setback, and the boys have got to demonstrate that to get a positive performance.”
Exeter City under-18s: Felix Norman, Joe Belsten, Cheick Diabate, Jack Stafford, Max Clark, Ben Chrisene, Louis Morison, Charlie Lawrence, Nelson Iseguan, Lewis Wilson, Theo Simpson. Subs: Alex Moyes, Jack Veale, Jay Stansfield