Exeter City’s Under-18s bowed out of the Youth Alliance Cup on Saturday as they suffered a 2-0 defeat away at AFC Wimbledon U18s in the semi-final of the southern section.
Two goals from Dons’ Ibrahim Bangura and Morgan Williams during the final 20 minutes proved to be the real sucker-punch, despite the Devon outfit enjoying most of the possession and territory throughout.
The south east side will now face Luton Town U18s in the southern area final.
City’s youth side will count themselves unlucky not to have progressed further in the competition, and their positivity on the ball showed from the opening kick-off as they quickly saw a lot of the ball and were largely in control of proceedings.
Chad Gribble’s side worked their way up the pitch with some intricate build-up play on many occasions, and looked capable of creating a clear-cut opening as they got into dangerous areas of the pitch frequently.
In the 20th minute, good play from Harrison King saw the full-back whip in a delivery. The ball was slightly behind Eli Collins, though the midfielder did manage to get his head to it first, but the effort was comfortably stopped.
Ten minutes later another King cross this time located Charlie Hanson, however, the forward wasn’t able to generate enough power on his header to really test the home goalkeeper.
Shortly after, Wimbledon’s first scoring opportunity came when they broke down their right flank. The resulting strike saw Harry Lee get across to his left-hand side swiftly to turn the ball away.
Just before half-time, Exeter’s youngsters looked to capitalise on a Dons error in possession. An interception led to Hanson receiving the ball on the left side. A sharp turn and a quick snap-shot from the edge of the area looked to catch the ‘keeper out, but the little purchase on the shot meant it remained goalless.
The beginning of the second half was largely like the end of the first, with the visitors enjoying plenty of spells with the ball, breaking through the initial press of the Londoners, and finding joy out on the wings, as well as through the middle of the pitch.
But for all of their neat build-up play, the Grecians were unable to carve open what proved to be a stubborn backline from the hosts.
Max Edgecombe had the Devonians brightest moments when twice he managed to get forward down the left, however, the defender’s crosses were too powerful and overhit, with both coming to nothing in the end.
As the contest reached the final quarter, City continued with the initiative by building the pressure, but a lack of cutting edge in the final third meant they were never really testing the Wimbledon defence, or working their goalie.
On 72 minutes, Gribble’s men were punished for their impotency when the Dons broke the deadlock. After failing to deal with the London club’s initial press, the hosts won themselves a corner. That set-piece was quickly taken short, and with a shot on the angle, the ball squeezed inside Lee’s near post and into the back of the net to make it 1-0.
While the goal might not have come against the run of play, it was against the run of the possession and territory, and despite Exeter’s best efforts of responding to the setback, another Wimbledon goal eight minutes from time extended the advantage.
After counter-attacking from initially a bit of decent play from the away side, Dons worked the ball down the left flank. As they advanced forward, Toby Nevile mistimed a tackle, which allowed the London side to pass the ball around an unfortunate Lee, and they tapped the ball into an empty net to make it a two-goal game.
In response, the Grecians created a late chance when Edgecombe’s cut-back found substitute Zeph Collins, which in turn led to a mix up from the attacking players. Eventually, a shot at goal came, but that was blocked once again from the solid home backline, and any threat on their goal was averted.
That meant their clean sheet was preserved, and their place in the next round was sealed. It means the southern final will be played between two of the top three sides in the South East division, before the victor then plays one of the northern clubs in the national final.
Exeter City Under-18s: Harry Lee, Harrison King, Toby Nevile, Ed James, Max Edgecombe, Gabriel Billington, Michael Lilley, Eli Collins, Joe Wragg, Mitch Beardmore, Charlie Hanson
Subs: Andrew Sowden, Joe O’Connor, Zeph Collins, Alfie Cunningham, George Spencer
Chad Gribble's thoughts
“This is probably the first time this season that our possession hasn’t presented us with the chances. I wouldn’t say we created any real clear cut chances in the tie. In the second half, we didn’t really threaten at all, and we didn’t work the backline or the goalkeeper enough. That is unlike us, and it was a frustrating day. We had control, but we have got to do more to get the results.
“It was a bit of a flip-revers of last week. We had really good possession, but we were missing the bit at the top end of the pitch. In terms of finding a control in the match, we did that, and getting into advanced areas, we did that too, so I’m quite pleased with those things. I’m quite interested to see the stats from the game because I am sure it will show we made a significant amount more passes than them, as well as more final third entries. But it has got to mean something. But I can’t be too hard on the group, and credit has to go to Wimbledon.
“You always can learn more when you lose, and you can actually learn about the character of players, and what they are like when they go 1-0 down. We had control for large parts, but came up against some quality players. I don’t think Max Edgecombe has faced that kind of test this season. I don’t think we have been tested like that physically at all this season, and Wimbledon have players with fantastic athletic abilities. We managed to get ourselves into decent parts of the pitch for the majority of the game, but it just didn’t happen for us, and you can have days like that. When you play good teams, they’ll punish you if you don’t make the most of your chances, so credit has to go to them for making the most of their moments. Particularly as they played in the FA Youth Cup on the Friday as well.
“It is a tough one to take, but there are so many more positives than negatives. We met our match here, as Wimbledon have a fantastic group, and they haven’t lost many this season, but we gave a good account of ourselves, but we didn’t punish them when we could have. This game will sting at times, but we can’t be too downbeat. We move onto Cheltenham Town U18s next weekend which is always a good match. They have players who execute their way of playing well so it will be another challenging game.”