Exeter City’s under-18s recorded their third straight draw after a 1-1 scoreline away at Southend United on Saturday.
The Shrimpers took the lead just past the midway point of the first half when a well-worked free-kick routine was headed home from close range.
The Grecians responded with an equaliser in the 31st minute following some neat build-up play. Charlie Lawrence’s centre located Nelson Iseguan at the far post and he tapped in.
Both teams enjoyed bright spells in the second period, with Theo Simpson unlucky not to hand the visitors a lead. However, it was United who squandered the best chance when they missed a penalty with 20 minutes remaining, meaning that both sides came away from the competitive contest with a point apiece.
Chad Gribble and his youngsters travelled to Essex for their third instalment of the Merit League campaign to face Southend - the club they had recently played in the Youth Alliance Cup southern section final.
The hosts, with the intent of getting revenge on the Devonians’ for their previous cup victory, enjoyed the majority of the territory during the opening 15 minutes, in a game that started with plenty of box-to-box action. However, no meaningful chances fell either team’s way in the first quarter of an hour.
It was the away team that then started seeing more of the ball, and off the back of that, carved out half-chances. Simpson forced the opposing goalkeeper into action with a fine stop, moments before the striker combined with Lewis Wilson and powerfully fired a shot from 18 yards which was also well saved.
Despite the momentum being with City, it was the home team that struck first in the 25th minute.
A free-kick from a wide area was met with a clever header at the back post. The ball fell into a dangerous area in the centre of goal, and the player following up nodded the ball into the back of the net to give the Shrimpers a one-goal lead.
It took Exeter six minutes to come up with a response, and they levelled the contest with a fast, flowing move.
Iseguan started the passage of play by winning possession back, before combining with Jack Veale. The ball was switched to Lawrence on the opposing flank, and he crossed to find Iseguan at the far post. The winger timed his run from deep perfectly and he converted from close range to make it 1-1.
It was United who looked the more threatening during the final moments of the first half. Their direct play was generally defended well by the Grecians’ backline, but the danger of their set-pieces troubled the visitors, and they were fortunate to go into the interval on level terms.
In a similar instance to their goal, the Essex club attacked through a set-piece. However, keeper Felix Norman produced a magnificent double save to deny Southend, and keep his side in the contest.
After the restart, Gribble’s men enjoyed perhaps their best period of the game, with the Westcountry team creating numerous clear-cut chances from their intricate football.
Simpson proved to be a real menace, and he fired one effort over the crossbar after being slid through on goal. The forward also saw a header kept out by the hosts’ shot-stopper.
Good build-up play involving Simpson and Wilson almost saw the latter collect a cross from his strike partner, but the home goalkeeper collected the ball before Wilson could convert the opportunity.
The Shrimpers grew into the half, and following a spell of offensive pressure, they won themselves a spot-kick on 70 minutes courtesy of Louis Morison hauling down an attacker. However, with luck on the side of the away team, the penalty was missed, keeping the scores level.
With both coaching teams making substitutions with the hope of nicking a late winner, the teams cancelled one another out, and decent openings were scarce. It meant at full-time City prolonged their unbeaten run, and solidified their mid-table position in a competitive Merit League three weeks into the campaign.
Exeter City under-18s coach, Chad Gribble, said: “We’ve got ourselves a good point. They are a good Southend team, and it is a tough place to get anything; we knew that from the cup final we had against them. But this was a game we could have won. We had enough chances which we might have taken on another day.
“The signs are encouraging. We took a young team, and I’m pleased we’ve given them these opportunities, and I’m happy they are able to compete well. After every Merit League match so far, the players have come off realising they need to work on something, and they’ve gone away and worked on it. You can certainly see there is progress every week.
“We were expecting a similar kind of game to when we played them last time. They have a certain DNA and they stuck to that. They have good attacking players but we did a good job of protecting our penalty box. There was perhaps not as much quality as there was in the first game against them, but that comes as part and parcel of playing the younger players.
“Nelson Iseguan was very good, and looked like a real threat throughout, whilst Joe Belsten was very steady against arguably Southend’s best player. Felix Norman’s two key saves were vital, and his kicking was very good. He proved to be a real leader for our inexperienced team.
“There was perhaps not as much quality as there was in the first league game against them, but that is due to the nature of developing young players and integrating them into the group.
“We showed some real improvements this week, and the goal we scored was of real quality. If we can repeat that level of quality, the boys will be a step closer to turning performances into results. We want to build on every performance, and next up we face AFC Bournemouth who always provide a real test. We are confident if the boys can put in a good performance, that will lead to a positive result.”
Exeter City under-18s: Felix Norman, Joe Belsten, Cheick Diabate, Jack Stafford, Max Clark, Louis Morison, Jack Veale, Charlie Lawrence, Nelson Iseguan, Lewis Wilson, Theo Simpson. Subs not used: Jack Arthur, Alex Moyse, Ben Chrisene, Frank Lovett, Jay Stansfield