Exeter City’s under-18s convincingly triumphed 3-0 against a young Cheltenham Town side at the Cliff Hill Training Ground on Saturday.
Lewis Wilson got the Grecians off to a fast start when his lofted finish broke the deadlock just three minutes into the contest.
Wilson added a second goal on 10 minutes when he converted from close range, before Harry Ford sealed the victory midway through the second half with a smart finish from the edge of the penalty area.
The victory lifts Exeter’s youngsters to fourth in the league standings.
The hosts established themselves as the dominant force in the contest, attacking from the opening kick-off as they searched for an early score.
After pinching the ball from the Robins with a high press, the Devonians won themselves a corner, which ultimately led to Jack Stafford sending the ball just over the crossbar.
That early chance was just a warning sign for the away side, as minutes later, another City surge did lead to the first score of the match.
Stafford played a pass in behind the scrambling Town defence, which saw Wilson sprint through. The forward won the race to reach the ball first, which left the opposition goalkeeper stranded, and Wilson’s neat lob sailed into the back of the net for 1-0.
Chad Gribble’s men kept the pressure on, and they doubled their lead in the 10th minute through that man Wilson again.
After Nelson Iseguan and Frank Lovett combined down the left-wing, the ball was teed up to Jack Veale to deliver a cross into the centre. The whipped ball troubled the visitors, and despite a touch from the Cheltenham ‘keeper, Wilson was on hand to tap the loose ball home.
Following the second score, the Robins then sat deeper, taking the sting out of the game and trying to restrict the home side’s opportunities.
No clear-cut chances were created, however, Lovett did look the liveliest in attack, and he saw two openings cleared by some effective defending by the away team.
With the teams switching ends for the second half, the Grecians were up against it as they played against the swirling wind. As a result, they found it hard to keep possession as they moved forward in the hope of killing the game with a third goal.
It meant that Exeter’s players had to remain patient and play a shorter game, which proved to be challenging, but they reaped their rewards on 72 minutes when they did eventually score for the third time.
After playing the ball out from ‘keeper Harry Lee, the ball shifted flanks with the help of Lovett. Cheick Diabate’s diagonal long pass fell into the path of Ford, and he unleashed a shot 20 yards out which beat the Town goalie and made it 3-0.
With the hosts well in control, they continued to come forward and look to add to their goal tally.
Substitute Ellis Johnson almost replicated Ford’s earlier goal with one of his own, however, that shot was blocked and cleared away, whilst Iseguan continued to pose a threat down his flank, and the winger flashed a number of menacing crosses across the face of the visitors’ goal.
However, no further goals meant it remained 3-0, with the Devon outfit securing the well-deserved three points.
Exeter City under-18s coach, Chad Gribble, said: “I’m really pleased with the start we have made, but a little disappointed with the final 20 minutes of the first half, where our build-up play was slow and sloppy. Credit to Cheltenham Town as they put out a young side and were very spirited. We took our foot off the gas and the good habits we should have shown went missing.
“We displayed those good habits again after half-time, when the conditions played a part. Our goal was excellent, and exactly how we should have approached the second period. It was difficult for the forward players to get on the ball, but we knew if we could draw them out and then deliver balls in behind the defence, we had the pace up top to threaten them. We showed great composure in the second half because it was difficult to play in, but we grew back into the game. It was a job well done and overall a professional performance.
“The team in general did well to stick to the plan, and we deserved that third goal. We were bit flat altogether in our performance, but that may be down to the last month after not playing for so long and then having four games in two weeks; we lacked a bit of energy which we would have normally shown.
“However, Alex Moyse showed bags of energy, and he kept our momentum high. He constantly broke up the play and did his job effectively. Harry Lee was also excellent in goal in his full Under-18s debut. He had to step up after Jack Arthur’s first-team commitments and really filled that void. He took two great catches in the second half and I am extremely pleased for him.
“We have had three fast starts in the last three games, so we have shown we have got over the problem of starting slow. The fast start gets us on the front foot and that’s how we like to play. We play Newport County U18s away next, which is always a tough place to visit. We aren’t looking at the league table and underestimating them as they have caused a few upsets in recent weeks. We know we will need to be at our best to get a result.
“The boys are confident at the moment. The FA Youth Cup knocked something out of us but against Forest Green Rovers we found some of that confidence again, and here against Cheltenham we looked more like ourselves. If we can keep a clean sheet like recent times then that gives us something to build from, and when you have Lewis Wilson in attack who is now on 14 goals, that gives you belief you can get something too.”
Exeter City under-18s: Harry Lee, Cheick Diabate, Jack Stafford, Alfie Pond, Harry Ford, Louis Morison, Alex Moyse, Jack Veale, Nelson Iseguan, Frank Lovett, Lewis Wilson. Subs: Max Clark, Andrew Sowden, Ellis Johnson, Ben Chrisene, Sonny Cox