Exeter City’s under-18s came away with a last-gasp victory at Cheltenham Town on Saturday as Chad Gribble thanks to two goals from Lewis Wilson and a wonder strike from Jack Veale.
Despite the day ending so spectacularly, the game began in a scrappy manner. Following a balanced opening 10 minutes, it was City who settled into a rhythm first, stringing together moves in the hope of finding a breakthrough.
In the 15th minute, the visitors did breach the defence with a well-worked move. Possession for the Devonians was played out towards the left flank, where Max Clark linked up with Nelson Iseguan. The winger crossed the ball into the middle, and Wilson managed to get ahead of his marker to flick the ball with the outside of his boot and into the goal for 1-0.
In spite of Exeter making the initial breakthrough, the Robins found an equaliser just a minute later to restore parity.
A corner for the hosts fell to the edge of the 18-yard box, where a shot came in from a Town player. Goalkeeper Jack Arthur saved the strike, but the referee adjudged that the ball touched a hand on the way through and awarded a penalty. Aaron Basford confidently tucked away the resulting spot-kick to level the contest.
That goal gave the home team encouragement, and they enjoyed a promising spell afterwards. Cheltenham looked to use their direct style and physical presence in attack to hurt their opponents, but Gribble’s men were resolute with their defending.
The two sides went into half-time level, and it was the away team that started the brighter in the second period.
The Grecians saw plenty of possession and territory, but they were unable to capitalise on their dominance up until the 75th minute.
Substitute Ben Chrisene won back the ball, before sliding in Iseguan on the wing. His centre was met by the ever-lively Wilson, and his first-time left-footed effort beat the Robins keeper to hand City the advantage once again.
Just like the first half however, their joy was short-lived as back came the hosts. With 10 minutes remaining, they made it two goals apiece.
From 30 yards, Town’s Aaron Evans-Harriot’s free-kick was sent into the Devon side’s penalty box to apply more pressure. The delivery deceived everyone, including the stricken Arthur, and the ball went in untouched to make it 2-2 in slightly fortuitous circumstances.
In similarity to earlier in the game, the home team once again used their goal as a springboard. Belief ran through the Cheltenham ranks as they continued to come forward and apply pressure onto the Exeter youngsters.
Tempers began to flair as the match reached its climax, and on 85 minutes a melee broke out that involved the majority of the 22 players on the pitch. Centre-back Cheick Diabate, was given his marching orders following a push on his opposite number, and the 10 men of the away side were left to battle on in the closing stages.
With the clock deep into injury time, the game looked like it was heading for a draw, before Veale came up with a piece of genius befitting to win any contest.
Gribble’s men won a free-kick in their own half that most teams would have looked at hurling into the opposition goalmouth to try and create some problems. Veale, however, took it upon himself to take the set-play quickly after spotting the Robins’ goalkeeper off of his goal line. A clean connection meant the midfielder’s attempt sailed over the keeper’s head, before flying under the crossbar, and hitting the back of the net to send all of the Grecian army into sheer shock, amazement and celebration.
Exeter City under-18s coach, Chad Gribble, said: “It was certainly an action-packed game, and the goal was an incredible way to end it. The free-kick was so instinctive and off-script, but Jack Veale had obviously seen something and he took full advantage of that situation.
“Our first two goals were very good, and they were really the only two spells where we were able to gain a bit of control. When we had that control we looked like we may have been able to dominate from then on but we weren’t able to. The match was a bit frantic, messy and scrappy at times, and ideally I would have liked it if we were able to control things our way.
“We could probably do a bit better defensively for their first goal, but the penalty has come from the new handball rule. Their second goal has come from a good delivery which caught us off guard. That was disappointing to concede. But overall we defended our box superbly from open play. Progress has certainly been made, and if we can transfer that defensive solidity to set pieces then we are only going to improve.
“We have not faced a team like Cheltenham Town before. We knew how they were going to play and the game provided good exposure for our players to face their style. I’m really pleased with how the boys dealt with their first spell of the game, but we need to improve and have a spell ourselves instead of conceding possession cheaply. That could have cost us on a different day.”
Exeter City under-18s: Jack Arthur, Cheick Diabate, Jack Stafford, Alfie Pond, Max Clark, Louis Morison, Alex Moyse, Jack Veale, Nelson Iseguan, Frank Lovett, Lewis Wilson. Subs: Ben Chrisene, Harry Lee, Harry Ford, Zeph Collins, Jamie Nicholson