Exeter City’s under-18s returned to action with a 3-2 defeat away to Swindon Town last weekend.
Following a string of postponed and rearranged fixtures, Exeter’s youngsters took to the field in a league capacity for the first time in three weeks hoping to continue their good form.
However the contest in Wiltshire saw Town begin the stronger, and they took advantage of a sloppy start from Chad Gribble’s men to grab an early lead.
With two minutes barely on the clock, the hosts switched play to the left. The Robins winger cut inside before shooting from distance, and as the ball came through plenty of men, it deceived goalkeeper Jack Arthur before it nestled in the back of the net.
Using the opening goal as a springboard, Swindon dominated possession and territory, as they refused to let the away side get out of their own half.
City managed to keep it at a one-goal game up until the 18th minute, when Jack Stafford fouled his man out wide. The resulting free-kick was whipped around several bodies, and the unsighted Arthur was helpless as the ball flew into his goal once again.
Four minutes later, the home team netted their third, once again punishing their opponents for their slack defence. The ball came over to the right side, before the Town wide-man started a mazy dribble. His run saw him glide past the chasing midfield and away from the opposing centre-backs before sliding the ball home with a majestic solo strike.
With the hosts well in command, they eased things and the game settled down. The Devon side started to see more of the ball as they tried to play their way into the contest, however, when the half-time whistle blew, it remained 3-0 and the two team talks that followed were very different.
The visitors responded to their manager’s words positively, and an excellent restart saw them control much of the possession.
With Exeter causing problems for their opponents down the wings, Max Clark and Nelson Iseguan combined on numerous occasions in a hope of providing a spark for their team.
Gribble’s men continued to build pressure throughout the half, but their final passes were letting them down during their build-up play.
Frank Lovett was introduced from the substitutes bench and he added more energy down the right side as City continued to press forward.
Eventually, the pressure did tell as the Devon outfit got on the scoresheet three minutes from time. Iseguan pushed down the wing, before he crossed the ball into a dangerous area. Wilson got across his man and touched the ball past the keeper to restore hope to the Exeter ranks.
It kickstarted a real attacking threat as moments later Gribble’s men managed to fire in another goal.
In a similar way to the attack minutes before, Iseguan started the move by delivering a ball in from wide. His deep cross this time, however, was met by Jack Veale, and the midfielder half-volleyed the ball home making it 3-2, and to set up a gripping finish.
In injury time, the away team mounted another attack as they stole the ball back from the resulting kick-off. Their quest for what looked like an unlikely equaliser began with Iseguan again, who got around his marker before cutting the ball back into the centre. Replacement Lilley reached the ball first and sent a powerful strike goalwards. Despite everyone associated with City hoping for the dramatic finish, the effort was well stopped by the Robins goalie, before the full-time whistle sounded, putting an end to a game which almost had everything, except any kind of points for Gribble and his players.
Exeter City under-18s coach, Chad Gribble, said: “We are really disappointed with the start. It was uncharacteristic of us, but I thought it was the first time we’ve had a spell where we have fallen away from our structure and game plan this season. We’ve conceded early in previous matches but haven’t come away from our tactics as we did here. Swindon got the goal and complete control, and we had no answers for it.
“We showed what we were truly capable of in the seance half, but we have to take into account that they were already 3-0 up at that stage. Our second half was probably a combination of them letting the foot off and our good quality. But even at the stage where we were three goals behind, we still needed to show our fight and quality.
“We have got to do better for their first goal, and that comes down to one or two individual errors which players shouldn’t be making at this stage of their development. It is the same with goals two and three.
“The response was good, but it easier when the pressure is off. That pressure was on at the start. We’ve had results go our way in recent weeks and it looked like we could climb the table and perhaps challenge for the title if we had got something from the match here, but maybe that pressure got to the players a bit. When the game looked dead and buried we played with more freedom and belief. When you play with a bit of uncertainty, you can let the opposition get the better of you."
Exeter City under-18s: Jack Arthur, Ellis Johnson, Cheick Diabate, Jack Stafford, Alfie Pond, Max Clarke, Louis Morison, Jack Veale, Nelson Iseguan, Harry Ford, Lewis Wilson. Subs: Alex Moyse, Frank Lovett, Michael Lilley, Harry Lee